A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Information Station

Les Joslin at Green Lakes Trailhead information station.
Les Joslin at Green Lakes Trailhead information station.

By Les Joslin

Marv arrived on the Deschutes National Forest that summer of 1991 as Bend Ranger District recreation forester responsible for wilderness and trails—and, therefore, for me. At the end of my second summer, when I turned in my campsite and trailhead surveys, he asked me what I thought the district’s wilderness management effort needed most.

“A trailhead information station at the Green Lakes Trailhead,” I answered immediately and explained why.

“You’re right,” Marv agreed, and asked if I’d pioneer such a station five days a week the next summer. I knew the wilderness well, and was a natural for the job. Since I couldn’t be paid a federal salary, I’d work on a small contract. “We’ll build a portable station, and you’ll staff it and work out how it works next summer.” I agreed to this first unexpected opportunity to address my Forest Service presence concern.

Over the winter, as I designed a wilderness trailhead information program, Marv enlisted a high school shop teacher to supervise construction of a sturdy little one-room, board-and-batten sided, shake-shingled building atop a rugged two-wheeled trailer bed that I would open the coming summer of 1992 as the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. I signed a contract to provide visitor information services there on Wednesdays through Sundays for fifty days from July 2 through September 7 at $49.50 per day.

Cold and rainy July 2, 1992, proved an inauspicious opening day for the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station temporarily based—since the station structure hadn’t been completed—on a log at the trailhead. But I stood my post and served 18 visitors that first day, nine of whom actually began trips into the Three Sisters Wilderness. The others just wanted information, mostly about other things they could do on the Deschutes National Forest on cold and rainy days. The bad weather persisted over that Fourth of July weekend during which I served an even two hundred visitors—177 who took day trips into the wilderness, four who began overnight trips, and the rest who sought general information.

As the summer advanced and the weather improved, visitor numbers increased and the range of trailhead services they needed became apparent. Most needed information about trail travel and camping. The knowledge I’d gained during two seasons of trail patrols and campsite surveys, along with a mounted map of the wilderness and the excellent Geo-Graphics Three Sisters Wilderness maps provided by the Northwest Interpretive Association for me to sell, made that a snap. More challenging was explaining wilderness regulations and the new self-issued wilderness permits. I knew the regulations and the reasons for the permits, and my public contact experience as a Toiyabe National Forest fire prevention guard during the 1960s helped an even more mature me address these topics successfully with a wide range of visitors of varying viewpoints. Most appreciated the presence of “a ranger” and the services he could provide. Some wondered why I didn’t have a ranger station. “It’s coming,” I told them.

And on July 30, the little Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station building arrived and was installed at the trailhead. I wasted no time affixing the mounted wilderness map to its front wall and moving in. The increased visibility afforded by the building and a local television news feature on the wilderness shot there on July 31 got my trailhead operation even more notice.

The next morning, August 1, I arrived at the trailhead station to find a single wheel track leading into the wilderness. I soon put this together with a vehicle in the parking lot marked “Pole Pak” and determined that the inventor and manufacturer of this one-wheeled device to aid backpackers—a good idea, perhaps, but not compliant with wilderness regulations that precluded wheeled vehicles (except wheelchairs)—was testing or using the device. I documented this and reported it to my supervisor.

Marv, perhaps afraid I’d get bored spending five days a week on trailhead duty—and not knowing that being bored was a waste of time I do not permit myself, arranged for one of the Student Conservation Association volunteers to staff the station on August 9 so I could patrol to Moraine Lake. On August 20, wilderness ranger Jill held the fort while I patrolled the Green Lakes-Soda Creek loop and swapped ideas with Don Doyle, the Deschutes National Forest wilderness coordinator.

Word about the trailhead station got around, and on August 28 Forest Supervisor Joe Cruz, District Ranger Walt Schloer, and a couple staff officers along with former wilderness manager Jim Bradley, a professional staff member on the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, U.S. House of Representatives, took a look. Might my project, I began to wonder, make a difference beyond the Deschutes National Forest?

3 thoughts on “A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Information Station”

  1. What a wonderful story. It brought back many wonderful memories. While on the El Dorado National Forest in the late 1960’s, I was the Wilderness Ranger for the Desolation Valley Wilderness Area. The name of the great Joe Cruz brought back to me the vibrancy of the Chief’s Office as a Deputy Chief. The vision of the trailhead information station reminded me of the visionary nature of many Forest Service employees that made it the premier conservation agency of our time. Thank you. Beautifully written. Captivating to be sure.

    Very respectfully,

    • I have many great memories of exploring Desolation Wilderness. I bagged many of the major peaks. Pyramid Peak, Mount Price, Mount Tallac, Red Mountain and Minaret Peak. I was able ski Mount Tallac on Memorial Day of 1983. There was a long tongue of snow on the north-facing side of a central ridge, which took us almost all the way to the bottom. Horsetail Falls is an exhilarating hike. I used a telemark style for ‘boot skiing’ down Pyramid Peak. Drag your toes on your rear foot to control your speed, in the melting snow.

      • I once met a wilderness ranger in Desolation Wilderness who told great stories about hikers, like the ones who had suitcases instead of backpacks. Fought a lighting fire in Desolation — the fire was smoldering in duff deep in a crack in the granite. We carried water from a lake. Rough duty, that!


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