A group led by environmental activists has stepped out on a roughly 90-mile hike across the proposed Siskiyou Crest National Monument to raise awareness about their campaign.

A group led by environmental activists has stepped out on a roughly 90-mile hike across the proposed Siskiyou Crest National Monument to raise awareness about their campaign.

The seven hikers began their trek Tuesday afternoon at Bigelow Lakes near Oregon Caves National Monument. They plan to follow the Siskiyou crest east for nine days, completing the journey on Aug. 12 at the Grouse Gap shelter on Mount Ashland.

About 60 miles of the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail.

"We are a diverse group of people who love this landscape and want to bring people's attention to this amazing place that is absolutely world-class in terms of biodiversity and scenic beauty, but mostly unprotected," hike leader Laurel Sutherlin, a naturalist with the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, said in a prepared statement.

In addition to Sutherlin, team members making the entire trip include a documentary filmmaker, photographer, botanist and staff from the center.

Scheduled to join them along the route are climate scientists, fire ecologists, hunters and representatives of the outdoor recreation industry.

With its center roughly along the Oregon-California state line, the proposed 600,000-acre monument would link the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, created in 2000, with the Oregon Caves National Monument, which was established a century ago.

The proposed monument would also encompass the 20,230-acre Red Buttes Wilderness and the Siskiyou Wilderness, as well as five inventoried roadless, undeveloped areas of forest land covering about 150,000 acres.

Much of the proposed monument area would be at elevations from 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet above sea level, although it also would dip lower into the Rogue, Applegate and Klamath river drainages at some points.

The proposed monument would include federally-managed land in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Klamath National Forest and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District. Private holdings within the monument would not be included, supporters stressed.

The high elevation ridge system includes a unique population of flora and fauna as a result of its proximity to the ocean on its western end and the Great Basin on its eastern end, Sutherlin said in a recent interview.

"You have fiendishly complex geology up here," he observed, "that has created a tremendous diversity of soil types . . . When you combine that complex geology with an incredibly complex topography, you get a tremendous number of micro-climates, which creates diversity across the landscape."

The proposed monument would draw hikers, campers and others interested in back-country recreation, he said. The main access roads would remain open as would hunting and fishing access, he added.

For photos of the first day of the trek, visit the Web site at www.siskiyoucrest.org

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.