Steens Mountain Wilderness Trail Maintenance

John Alyward


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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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.”

Organizer: Renee Patrick

Dates: September 18-21, 2023

Region: Steens Mountain

Difficulty Rating: Level 4: Strenuous

Maximum Group Size: 10 participants

About the place

The Steens Mountain region includes an area of traditional aboriginal use by 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. 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.

The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000 established the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. The law established more than 170,000 acres as Wilderness, including the iconic Little Blitzen and Big Indian Gorges which offer stunning non-motorized recreation opportunities.

About the stewardship work

The Fred Riddle Trail was established as a new trail in the Burns District Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2015 Comprehensive Recreation Plan. Providing a loop starting at the South Steens Campground, the trail follows the Little Blitzen Trail, ascending out via the Nye Trail and following Cold Springs Road west, and then descending the steep western face of gorge to return back to the South Steens Campground.

ONDA will partner with the Burns BLM for National Public Lands Day to improve trail conditions and increase access to other stunning areas of the Steens Mountain Wilderness. We will head to the work site at 8 a.m. and stop work by 4 p.m. in order to leave time in the afternoon to clean-up, relax and cook a well-deserved dinner. The work will involve using Pulaskis, shovels, rakes, and other trail tools to clear brush from the corridor of the trail and installing signage, in addition to variety of other tasks. ONDA and the BLM will provide all instruction and necessary tools to do the job. No previous trail building experience is needed to attend this trip. All that is required is a love of the high desert, a big smile and a willingness to learn.

Kim Kovacs

Trip Timeline

  • Monday, September 18, 5-7 p.m.: We will meet and camp at South Steens Campground in the group site.
  • Tuesday-Wednesday, September 19-20: After breakfast we will hike to the work site and begin our work brushing and maintaining the trail. Volunteers should plan to be out all day, and be prepared for a full day of hiking and doing physical work in full sun. On Wednesday, volunteers are welcome to head home after the day’s work or spend one last night camping together.
  • Thursday, September 21: After breakfast we will head home.


We will be car camping at South Steens Campground in the group site near the Big Indian Trailhead, meeting between 5-7 p.m. There are pit toilets and potable water. Since we’ll be car camping, you will be able to have all the amenities you can fit in your car. Further details describing camp and driving directions will be provided to participants in the information e-mail three weeks before the trip.


Level 4

The physical demands of this trip are moderate to strenuous. Work involves day hiking and carrying hand tools to the project site, physically strenuous work on a steep trail, and hot daytime temperatures. We will have a variety of additional tasks available to rotate through that require less physical exertion. Volunteers should be prepared to hike up to 6 miles per day.

Participant Responsibilities

Participants are responsible for their own food, camping gear as well as transportation to and from the trip.  Sturdy off-trail ankle-high boots and long sleeves are required for this trip. Volunteers should be prepared to be away from camp all day each of the work days.

Gear Provided

ONDA and BLM staff will provide all instruction and necessary tools to do the job. While participants are encouraged to bring their own work gloves, ONDA will bring enough work gloves for all volunteers.


An ONDA registration application and medical form are required for this trip. Check the box next to each trip you would like to attend. You only need to fill this form out once per year.

Apply Now

You will receive a confirmation email within 2 weeks of submitting your form. The confirmation email will provide information regarding which trips you are on the “participant list” for, and which trips are full, and therefore you have been placed on the “wait list.”

Six weeks before the start of the trip, the trip leader will send out an RSVP to make sure everyone is still able to participate. Based on RSVPs, open spaces will be backfilled with people from the waitlist.

Three weeks before the trip start date, registered and confirmed participants will receive driving instructions, maps, and additional information in an email sent by the trip leader

If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact the trip leader.


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