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Formed in 2003, the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) is a volunteer driven 501c3 non-profit whose primary goal is the maintenance and enhancement of the trail systems in Plumas and Sierra Counties. SBTS employs as many as 15 full-time, seasonal employees, all of which are Plumas and Sierra County residents, with a payroll of just under $400,000 for 2010. In addition to a paid trail crew, SBTS has donated over 30,000 hours of volunteer labor to both the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests, maintaining over 30 trails, including the creation of 25 miles of new trails. While these trails see over 200,000 users per year, they continue to maintain a level “A” standing, due in large part to all the hard work of SBTS staff and volunteers. This organization is not only a shining example of what a small group of dedicated, passionate people can do for an area, it is a demonstration of economic efficiency when no alternatives exist. All of our product sponsors’ and volunteer monies go directly to trail maintenance and development. Donations are multiplied by over 1500% through organized volunteer labor and in-kind contributions.
The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship(SBTS) is staffed mostly by people who have been playing and living in these hills for decades. We believe that this is an area that offers unique natural beauty, a unique level of accessibility, and a uniquely diverse number of recreational opportunities. We don’t believe in raping the land for the sake of a dollar bill, nor do we advocate a "hands off" approach to the backcountry. We believe that, with proper care, this area can provide enjoyable backcountry access for everyone for decades to come. We believe, and maybe we will be proven wrong in the end (but for now we remain optimistic), that with a few well intentioned staff members and proper funding, we can keep the trails of this region in pristine shape. We believe that we can reduce watershed siltation, that we can make existing trails less prone to erosion, and that we can rebuild trails in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable for all users. And we believe, with an eye always toward staying in balance with nature, that this very special place can exist as a showcase for how to co-exist, humans to nature, and human to human.
The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship is dedicated to the preservation of trails, and the access to those trails, in and around the Sierra Buttes area. It is our goal to preserve, restore, and enhance the trails of this region in an environmentally sensitive and ecologically responsible fashion – by using low impact and aesthetically considerate practices to reduce erosion and watershed contamination - so that they can withstand the demands of an increasing number of recreational users. Preservation of access for all use groups is of paramount importance to us, as is maintaining a sense of historical perspective.
The Sierra Buttes, a spectacular granite outcropping at the northern end of California’s Sierra Nevada range, are our home. Man has left his mark here – first with mining, then with extensive logging. However, this is a region twice raped and thrice restored. Trees carpet the land. Eagles still fly here. Bears and mountain cats still roam the hillsides. And every summer, people come here in the thousands. They hike the magnificent landscape. They fish the streams. They swim and boat in the pristine alpine lakes. They ride horses, mountain bikes, and motorcycles on hundreds of miles of trails that were once used to haul ore and logs.
The impact of recreational outdoor use, while far more benign than hydraulic mining or clearcut logging, is still just that – impact. The numbers of people coming to this area for recreational escape have been steadily rising for the past two decades, and given current population trends, it’s unlikely that those numbers will dwindle anytime soon. The trails that people use - be it for hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking - inevitably suffer increased wear under greater numbers of footprints, hooves, and tire tracks. Some of these trails are a hundred and fifty years old, and were built in a time when terms like "sustainable grade" did not exist (a time when the concept of recreational use didn’t exist either, for that matter). Heavy use of these trails without some sort of restoration and without any mitigation of that impact ends up becoming an issue for the surrounding ecosystem, especially in terms of erosion and watershed contamination. All of these trails exist on National Forest Service land. In a perfect world, the FS would be able to tend these trails as part of their ongoing resource management. But this isn’t a perfect world, and the Forest Service doesn’t have the funds to manage these trails. Currently, our local district of the Tahoe National Forest only has two employees to maintain, patrol and police over 300 miles of trail. This issue – a heavily used, crucially valuable trail system that is vital to the surrounding local economies but lacking the resources to maintain itself - is what caused us, The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, to be born.
We are hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyle riders, fisherman, equestrian. We are the descendents of native tribes and fourth generation miners. We are vacationers who have been coming here for years. We are the people who go out and pick up the empty beer cans and shotgun shells. We are local business owners. We are the ones carrying chainsaws in backpacks as the snow melts, clearing the winter deadfall away. We are people who believe that we have something very special in our backyard, and we want to keep it special for our children, and for their children.
We believe in environmentally conscious and respectful land use. If trails are carefully rebuilt and maintained, we believe that they can withstand heavy use without degenerating or becoming a hazard to the surrounding environment. We also believe that trails should be as unobtrusive as possible within a given landscape, that they should be built in such a manner as to conform to the aesthetics of the land, that they should shed water without eroding, that they should be stable and long lasting, and that they should be fun to hike or ride regardless of direction. The trails that we have adopted are, in many cases, poorly built and needing restoration in several different aspects. Trail building philosophy, especially with regard to motorcycle and mountain bike use, has undergone a steep learning curve nationwide over the past couple decades. Through grade reduction, careful attention to drainage, and thoughtful construction, and with the application of lots of grunt work, it is possible to have a trail system that meets the standards outlined above, one that shows little wear and tear over the long haul.