Why is paint on the trees a good thing for mountain bikers?

Contributed by Melanie Fisher. She has lived in Bend for 15 years and was previously the co-owner of Cog Wild Bicycle Tours. When Melanie is not representing Central Oregon Trail Alliance on the DCFP Steering Committee as one of our Recreation seat holders, you will find her on her mountain bike enjoying the beautiful scenery and flowy trails of Central Oregon. 

Curious why you see paint on the trees through the trail network west of Bend?

First, a brief history of our fire-adapted forests:

  • For centuries, wildfire and cultural-fire applied by the indigenous peoples came through the land now part of the Bend trail network area every 5 to 25-years. These natural fires kept the forest from becoming too dense, created space for native grasses to flourish, and recycled nutrients back into the soil.
  • Over the last 100+ years, our forest was drastically changed by pioneer settlers and removing Native Americans from the land, as widespread livestock grazing, excessive logging of the largest and most fire-resistant trees, and increased wildfire suppression moved in.
  • These changes created an unhealthy forest that is less resilient to insects, disease, drought, and wildfires.
  • Starting in 2010, members of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project began years of planning and implementation to bring the forest back into alignment.
  • Restoration work is accomplished by strategically thinning small trees (that’s where you’ll see more paint on the trees!), mowing to cut down flammable shrubs and non-native plants, and then reintroducing low-intensity fire conducted by professionals during a prescribed burn.

Now, why is paint on the trees a good thing for mountain bikers?

Mountain bike rider in Phil's Trail network with paint on the trees

Here are our favorite reasons why:

1. Create Better Sight Lines & Scenic Views:

Forest restoration creates a better riding atmosphere for the flowy trails found in Bend. Our trail network is full of sweeping turns and endless flow where the fun factor turns up the faster you go. Stutter bumps are created when you can’t see the trail or obstacles ahead of you, requiring abrupt braking that you were not expecting. When there is wider spacing through the trees, you can scan farther down the trail, regulating your speed to match the trail easier.

Restoration also creates a more positive ride experience. Enjoy sweeping views through the forest, ride through native grasses and wildflowers, pass by healthy, happy trees and interesting rock formations that were once hidden behind thick trees. Once you notice all the small-diameter trees are no longer packed together fighting for water and sunlight, you realize how unhealthy they were, which can be a bummer.

2. Reduced Wildfire Intensity = Saving the Trails We Love

With human-caused wildfire starts on the rise and frequent lightning storms during our hot and dry summers, it’s not a matter of if we’ll have a wildfire season, but when.

Fuels-reduction treatments like selective logging, mowing and prescribed fire help to reduce the intensity of a wildfire. Wildfires can burn at such a high heat that most organic particles of the soil can burn away, changing the soil composition from what was once a packed trail into a pile of loose sand. After the first rain or heavy snowmelt off, our trails run the risk of washing away or being altered in negative ways!

What do the different colors of paint mean? [Click here to learn more!]

Prescribed fire is minimally invasive to our trails, allowing mountain bikers to return to ride soon after the restoration work has been done. Wildfires normally result in months or even years of closures for hazardous trees removal and post-wildfire cleanup. Trails normally have to be rebuilt in areas affected by wildfire.

3.The Native Plants, Trees & Wildlife Are Happier:

In an overly dense forest, the native plants that wildlife need for sustenance (such as Ceanothus velutinus, aka snowbrush) are pushed out by too many plants competing for water and sunlight.

Overly dense forests can hinder trees from growing naturally. The mid- and lower-elevation ponderosa pine trees like the ones found west of Bend, drop their lower branches when they age, which helps fire not climb up their trunk. Ponderosa pines are more successful at fighting off beetle infestations if they are receiving enough water, which does not happen when there are too many trees in a small area competing for resources. Restoration allows rain and snow to soak into the soil to feed trees and plants – creating a beautiful environment to support our trails for years to come.

How can you help during restoration activity?

  • Respect trail closures and ride elsewhere [Find more Trail Resources here]
  • Go-arounds and temporary trail closures are there for your safety! Did you know that an industrial mower like the ones used during mastication operations can throw debris 300 feet in the air? Yikes!
  • Don’t forget to spread the word so your friends and neighbors also know to not interfere with the closures.
  • Our friends over at the Central Oregon Smoke & Fire now offer prescribed fire and wildfire text alerts. Stay in the know of what is happening in the forest and signup over on their website.
  • Follow the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project and Deschutes NF on Facebook for updates related to trail closures, restoration activity, and forest news.
  • What do the different colors of paint on the trees mean? [Read the full story here] 

This story was written from a local mountain biker's perspective and may not necessarily reflect all recreation groups and community members. Over the next few months, we're going to interview and showcase how forest restoration connects with different groups within our community. Stay tuned!

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