Unplug, Unwind, and Dig In; Trail Work in Idaho's Selkirk Mountains

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14289A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help reconstruct backcountry trails in the Idaho wilderness
  • Share the company of other like-minded individuals 
  • Enjoy the solitude of remote wilderness


  • Meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers to and from Spokane
  • Campsites before and after the work trip


DatesAug 9–16, 2014
StaffErhard Konerding

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Trip Overview

The Trip

This trail reconstruction service trip in the Selkirk Range will be a rewarding experience in a wild and beautiful part of Idaho. The Bonners Ferry Ranger District of the Panhandle National Forests reaches from the Purcell Range and the Montana state line on the east to the rugged Selkirk Range on the west, and adjoins the Canadian border to the north. We will be based at West Fork Lake, one of the larger high mountain lakes in the district. The hike to the base camp is about four miles. The Selkirks’ rugged mountains and ridgelines offer spectacular vistas and opportunities for enjoyable day hikes. A variety of  wildlife inhabit the area, including moose, whitetail and mule deer,  black bear, marmots, and pikas, along with diverse bird species. Though the Selkirks are located within grizzly habitat, we have not had a history of bear encounters. We'll follow the Forest Service's guidance on safe hiking and camping in bear country.

Idaho mountain weather is variable. August days are usually sunny and warm, with substantially cooler temperatures in the evening. Rain in the mountains is always a possibility, so sturdy rain gear is important. There are no poisonous bugs or snakes, and there's no poison ivy or poison oak. Mosquitoes are common, though.


The Project

The planned project is re-routing and reconstructing portions of the West Fork trail. The work is strenuous and the walk to job sites from camp may be up to 3 miles. We will construct short sections of re-routed trail, build rock walls and  erosion control structures, and fill in eroded trail sections, employing various tools including Pulaskis, rock bars, and shovels. The Forest Service will provide all tools and train us in their safe use. Volunteers will be required to wear long pants, boots, and gloves while working. Our cool crew will work alongside the Forest Service trail crew from the Bonners Ferry Ranger District for most of the trip, continuing a partnership with the Sierra Club that has extended for nearly four decades.


Pre-Trip: For those arriving by air, the Forest Service will provide a shuttle service from the Spokane Airport at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 9. Later, at 4 p.m., we'll all get together for a pre-trip orientation meeting at the Bonners Ferry Ranger Station, where a Forest Service representative will greet us, discuss the upcoming work, and answer any questions. We'll be able to camp conveniently on the Ranger Station lawn the night before the hike in, though no showers will be available there. Participants may also choose to stay at local hotels or other formal camping areas.

Day 1: The morning of Sunday, August 10, the Forest Service will provide transportation from the Ranger Station to the trailhead, where we will get an early start on our four-mile hike into base camp. We should arrive by early afternoon, with time to set up camp and relax a bit before dinner.

Day 2: On our first trail reconstruction work day, we'll learn the basics.

Day 3: On our second work day, we'll work on improving our skills.

Day 4: Today will be our free day to hike, sightsee, just kick back and relax, or perhaps see if we can find a lake or two.

Day 5: On our third work day, we'll work on mastering the finer points of trail reconstruction technique.

Day 6: On our fourth work day, we'll likely be feeling like experienced pros, but it'll be time to wrap up our project.

Day 7: This morning we'll hike out along our newly improved trail. We should arrive back at the trailhead in the early afternoon. In the evening, we'll celebrate our accomplishments with a farewell dutch treat dinner at a local restaurant. Convenient camping will be available again tonight on the Ranger Station lawn.

Day 8: The next morning, the Forest Service will shuttle us back to the Spokane Airport. The shuttle will return no earlier than 11 a.m., so schedule your travel accordingly. For those who might want to drive, the leader will send you directions. 




Getting There

As noted, the Forest Service will provide transportation from the Spokane Airport on arrival day, the Saturday before the trip begins. Participants arriving by air will need to be ready to meet the shuttle by 1 p.m. for the three-hour drive to Bonners Ferry. On departure day, Sunday, August 17, the Forest Service shuttle will aim to arrive at the airport by 11 a.m., so  be sure to allow adequate check-in time while booking your return flight. Airport limousine service is occasionally available, but is not recommended since it is quite expensive and not known for reliability. Car rental is an option, but this typically requires that the rental car remain parked in town or at the trailhead for the trip's duration. For those driving, the Forest Service complex is located on the south end of Bonners Ferry just off Highway 95. A large Smokey the Bear sign marks the entrance.

Accommodations and Food

Strenuous exercise and hard work burn a lot of calories, and the Forest Service ranger/cook will provide us with ranchhand-style meals. She is famous for her abilities; this will not be your typical backpacking food. Vegetarian diets can be accommodated -- please indicate your food preferences in your application. Since there is no convenient source of water at the base camp, the Forest Service team will bring water in for us.

While we're on the trip, the Forest Service will provide food for our Sierra Club group, starting with dinner on the hike in (day one) through lunch on the hike out (day seven). Participants are responsible for providing their own breakfast and a pack-along lunch on day one, and meals after our hike out on day seven, starting with dinner, which we'll plan as a no-host farewell dinner at a local restaurant. There are also limited facilities at the Ranger Station that may be used to prepare simple meals.

Trip Difficulty

The hike in to base camp should be considered moderate since we won't have to carry our food or cookware. The hike out should be a bit easier since it's downhill, but it will be just about as long as the hike in! The work itself will require some heavy lifting and should therefore be considered strenuous.

Equipment and Clothing

You will need to bring work clothing and camping equipment. You'll receive an equipment list well in advance of the trip. The Forest Service will provide and transport materials, tools, and equipment to the worksite. August weather in the Selkirks is typically warm and sunny during the day, but quite cool at night. As in most parts of the Rockies, rain is likely sometime during a trip of this duration, so rain gear is necessary. You will be responsible for packing in all your personal gear.



The USGS topographic maps that cover the area where we're going are Shorty Peak and Caribou Creek. The ranger station is open Monday-Friday, so you'll only be able to get maps and guides there if you're planning to arrive early.


Since its founding in 1892, The Sierra Club has worked to preserve and restore the natural environment we all share on this planet. Thousands of grassroots-level volunteers spearhead our efforts to conserve and sustain resources, both in our own backyards and on a global scale. Through direct experience in the outdoors, Sierra Club outings enable participants to better understand, advocate, and participate in the environmental conservation goals of the Club.

Idaho's roadless areas have been the focus of wilderness vs. development controversy for many years. We'll see up close how these issues play out in the area we're visiting, and learn about current efforts to preserve these wild areas.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Erhard Konerding has enjoyed leading children, teens, and adults into the outdoors for years, including a decade with Sierra Club’s program, Inner City Outings. He has hiked, camped, and backpacked around the world, and sees service trips as an opportunity to contribute to the quality of parks and forests . He’s always ready for a tough crossword puzzle.

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