After hiking through a blanket of branches with only brief glimpses of what lies beyond the trees, footsteps
become faster and breathing, louder. Light breaks through the maze of trunks up ahead. No one says a word. The only noise is the wind that rustles the surrounding leaves.
At the top of the trail, there are footprints in the mud, indents in the earth where others stood and looked out at the rolling hills of green and gold that span on for miles.
The view from the Eastside Lookout on Moscow Mountain is one that Kyle Flack, a University of Idaho senior born and raised in Moscow, knows well.
Flack, a mechanical engineering major, has been hiking and biking the mountain since middle school. He has had the opportunity to get to know his classmates thanks to the trails.
“In my major, mountain biking is a huge thing, like just this weekend I went out with, like, five engineers,” Flack said. “We love going out there and plus, you can build trails.”
Students can build trails thanks to the Moscow Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA). Scott Metlen, president of MAMBA, is also an associate professor and head of the business department at UI. He said MAMBA has created around 70 miles of trails up on the mountain and they hold two trail builds a month when the mountain is open.
“All the trails are two ways. You can hike, bike, run, you can use horses,” Metlen said. “The reason we get to use that mountain is because we have responsible people using it.”
All of the land on Moscow Mountain is privately owned. It is public knowledge who owns what land, he said.
“We go and talk to them and sometimes land owners approach us and say we want to build a trail,” Metlen said. “Land owners have found that they have people trespassing all the time and it’s better to do that in a structured way.”
About one quarter of MAMBA’s membership is composed of students, but Metlen said he would love to see even more get involved. He said this involvement would help other students understand the characteristics of the mountain.
“It’s an amazing resource,” Metlen said. “The way it benefits the community — you got a bunch of people living in cages, and human beings aren’t meant to be in cages. So it gives you a chance to go out there and enjoy nature, relax and kind of decompress.”
Moscow Mountain is also used for more than recreation. The Northeast side of the mountain is home to the UI Experimental Forest. Rob Keefe, assistant professor of forest operations and director of the UI Experimental Forest, oversees the 8,300 acres of forest the university owns.
“The forest is managed by the College of Natural Resources (CNR), and we try to get all of the undergraduate programs out using it as much as possible,” Keefe said. “We are making a big push now to increase the amount of teaching activities that happen on the forest.”
Approximately 20 undergraduate classes provide students with hands-on learning by allowing them to work with the forest lands. Many CNR graduate students also conduct research on the forest, Keefe said.
“We didn’t used to have it connected so well in our forestry program and we’ve worked really hard to change that, for teaching, research and outreach,” Keefe said. “It gives them a chance to get out in their classes, so they can make management decisions.”
Students within CNR aren’t the only ones to benefit from the forest, either. Architecture students have spent time there learning about wood for architectural design to help them understand the building materials they work with. Engineering students do projects with radio-controlled vehicles in the forest and ROTC students participated in a land navigation course. Keefe said the forest is available to any students who want to utilize the land and use it to its fullest to benefit the university.
Outdoor Program Director Trevor Fulton said it’s important that students know Moscow Mountain is a resource they can utilize.
“One of the biggest things we hear from students is there’s nothing to do,” he said. “That’s one of those places that is five minutes from town. A lot of students don’t know it’s there and if they knew what it would have to offer, more people would enjoy it.”
Fulton said students also need to be willing to explore a little bit and step outside their comfort zone in town.
“I think it’s a detriment they don’t give Moscow a chance and give someplace like Moscow Mountain a chance,” he said. “It would really help kind of round out students and help that stress release and build that connection with nature we kind of started with.”