Steens Mountain Wilderness Recreation Monitoring

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Nate Wilson-Traisman, member since 2019

Nate Wilson-Traisman, member since 2019

“My greatest hope is that Oregon’s desert continues to gain public lands protections, and is guarded from unsustainable development, so that future generations may benefit from all the region has to offer.

I felt inspired by trips to Oregon’s high desert, and was actively searching for ways to contribute to the protection of these wild places. ONDA stood out as a leader in this respect, and when I’ve had money to contribute, ONDA has been a clear choice.”


Craig Terry, ONDA member and stewardship volunteer

Craig Terry, ONDA member and stewardship volunteer

“The people I have had the privilege to share time with each season keep me volunteering again and again. Who else but those ONDA staff leaders would make fresh coffee at dawn each morning or pack a watermelon all day to serve as a reward under a juniper in a steep canyon?” Craig, who grew up in northwestern Nevada, says ONDA connects him with places he loves and a mission he believes in. “My grandfather and his father put up wire fences for their ranching needs. Taking out barbed wire sort of completes a circle for me.”


Oregon’s first desert wilderness

Oregon’s first desert wilderness

Steens Mountain: Oregon’s first desert wilderness

On October 30, 2000, Congress passed the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act, finishing the work that had taken ONDA and the other members of the Steens-Alvord Coalition decades  

Steens Mountain is a land of startling contrasts: dramatic u-shaped

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Organizer: Stewardship Team

Project Timeline: 6/01/2022 through 10/31/2022

Region: Steens Mountain Region

Difficulty Rating: Level 4: Strenuous

Volunteers Needed: No limit

About the place

Steens Mountain is within the traditional homelands of the Northern Paiute people and the Burns Paiute Tribe. The tribe has a small reservation in Harney County, located near Burns; the Burns Paiute People are the descendants of the Northern Paiute, or Wadatika people. After being forced to leave their lands following the Bannock War, members of the Burns Paiute tribe returned and reestablished their community in the Harney Valley. The Wadatika’s homeland encompasses a territory from the Cascades east past what is now Boise, and from the Columbia south well into Nevada. Learn more about The Burns Paiute Tribe here.

Often mistaken for a chain of mountains, Steens is actually one contiguous monolith that dominates the horizon. Stretching some 30 miles wide and a mile vertical, Steens is the largest fault block mountain in Oregon, if not North America. From the high points along its long ridgeline, one can look out over the Alvord Desert to the south and gaze into deep gorges to the north.

About the project

Several trails in the Steens Mountain Wilderness lie along part of ONDA’s 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail. Over the years volunteer trips have been held to address some of the deferred maintenance on these trail systems, and more work remains!

This project is an “adopt a trail” type of design, and will offer the opportunity for you to choose a section of trail (somewhere around a mile) to hike, note any maintenance issues, and perform some light stewardship in the way of brushing the trail corridor with loppers and/or hand saws.


This is a recreation impact monitoring and maintenance project

  1. First, go for a hike! Walk your section of trail and enjoy the beautiful day.
  2. As you notice impacts, signage, campsites, use a recreation monitoring app on your smart phone to identify and record your observations.
  3. Maintain your section of trail. Using a variety of trail tools (ONDA can provide access to these tools) work on your section of chosen trail as directed in the information you will receive once you have signed up for the project.


This project has about a six-month window (once the snow melts and until the snow falls again – approximately June – October), and during this time you will be asked to find a day (or days…) to conduct the work… it’s all up to you!


Level 4

This trip will require hiking, and depending on the section of trail you choose, your hike could be almost 10-miles one way, although many sections are more accessible. This project would be ideal for backpackers who want to spend some time hiking in the Steens Mountain Wilderness. Elevations are often above 6,000′, so please take that into account.


An ONDA registration application and medical form are required for this project.

Project Details

All the information you will need to know about this independent project will be emailed to you after your registration is complete. Each project page has extensive information about access, technology, tools, maps and more. Please be prepared to spend 1-2 hours reviewing this information prior to heading out on your project, the good news is that time spent reviewing and preparing for your trip all counts towards your volunteer hours.

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