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‘Working for the public to keep trails open’

Idaho Pathfinders

Pathfinders working with Josh Lattin on the Florence bridges.

Credit: Contrbuted photo
Pathfinders working with Josh Lattin on the Florence bridges.

Annually, across the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, many volunteer and partnership efforts are in place to help keep trails open for everyone. On the Salmon River Ranger District, there are approximately 230 miles of open motorized trails offering awesome recreational opportunities. Ever wonder who helps the Forest Service maintain those trails?

According to Brenda Heckman, secretary-treasurer of the Idaho Pathfinders ATV Club, located in White Bird, the club originated in 1999 with about 35 members. Their main objective as a group was to have a strong voice that supported keeping ATV trails open for the public. They formed a partnership with the Nez Perce National Forest, helping the Forest Service open up trails and keeping them cleared.

Dean Heckman of White Bird has been the president and vice-president off and on since the club started. Rick Liepitz joined the Pathfinders about five years ago; this is his second year as vice-president.

Around 2003 as part of the State of Idaho Trail Ranger Program, club members worked hand in hand with the Nez Perce National Forest and Idaho Parks and Recreation on 64 miles of trails.

The Pathfinders did their first contract work with the Nez Perce National Forest in 2008 on the 9301 Trail. The project included installing a culvert, fixing the trail in places, and completing a creek crossing. This was accomplished during a weekend.

Their next big project was keeping Kirkwood Trail open to the public. This took almost a year of researching, mapping, walking into Kirkwood, and attending county commissioners’ meetings. The Pathfinders feel they were instrumental in helping to convince the commissioners to keep the trail open. The group worked on that trail every year to help improve it. This project was in partnership with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

In 2009, a crew of 10 worked on the Scott trail, which is on the breaks of the Salmon River west of Carey Creek. All the work was done by hand at that time.

In 2010, the group worked with Josh Lattin, trails specialist on the Salmon River Ranger District, on a trails project. They installed two bridges in the Florence section of the Centennial Trail. “This was our first bridge job. And we loved it!” Brenda said. We used three ATV dump trailers to haul the rock in from the road. That was two wonderful days of hard work and fun!”

The following year in 2011 on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, the Pathfinders went to Big Canyon down by Pittsburgh Landing and hauled out old wire, culverts and junk for the Forest Service to dispose of.

The Pathfinders last large project was completed in 2014 with Noel Payne, trail specialist on the Salmon River Ranger District. They built a bridge on the 313 Trail, which is located just off the Gospel Trail headed for Adams Camp. They used ATV dump trailers to haul rock, walked behind the dump trailer, and excavators for loading and placing rock. This is a big bridge with some different types of on and off ramps.

“We enjoy an open working relationship with the Forest Service. They help us, and we help them. Thank you to Josh Lattin and Noel Payne; they are great people to work with. Thank you to Jeremy Harris for listening and assisting with paperwork and agreements,” added Brenda.

In 2015, the group worked about 20 days opening up 98 miles of ATV trails (8' wide and 10' high). This year’s extensive fire season put a damper on the group’s work plans. They had to put off the planned work on the 313 Trail. There were three group rides that were planned but canceled due to the dry weather and fires in the area. As a general rule, they do not plan group rides during hunting season.

The Pathfinders ATV Club is a family-oriented group and many times the whole family pitches in to help, one way or another. They have held BBQ steak dinner rides; most of them range from 130 members to the biggest one that was attended by more than 300 people. The group hosts family fun nights, fun runs and raffles to raise money. Or they just get together to go on club rides.

The money raised from these events goes to work on trails. Occasionally they help out those that are in need. They’ve donated to families that have been in ATV accidents and painted a house for a family of one of the members who was killed in an ATV accident.

For three years, seven certified members of the Pathfinders have taught free ATV training classes to kids and adults who request it. They are assisting Idaho Parks and Recreation in this effort.

The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month (unless it falls on a holiday). Currently, their meetings are held at Hoot’s Café in White Bird at 7 p.m.

“Idaho Pathfinders help to educate ATV recreationists on trail etiquette and considerate trail use so that we can retain our privileges and support the large numbers who enjoy the great outdoors on their ATVs,” Brenda said. “Through large numbers of considerate trail riders, we can make an impact on those who might otherwise become abusers.”

For information, visit the Pathfinders website at:


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