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Cape Horn Meeting Planned

Posted by Ryan Ojerio at Mar 16, 2009 02:20 PM |

Once destined to be developed as a housing subdivision, the Cape Horn area of the Columbia Gorge is now moving closer to becoming an official public recreation area administered by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA). On Wed. March 18, the CRGNSA will host a public meeting to gather input on how to develop a trail system that will be safe, sustainable and also showcase Cape Horn’s outstanding scenic and recreational value.

Over 20 years ago, Friends of the Columbia Gorge founder Nancy Russell spearheaded an effort to acquire property atop Cape Horn to preserve it as a public park. With help from many individual donors as well as the Trust for Public Lands and the CRGNSA, several key properties have been purchased and turned over to the Forest Service.

At the same time a group of local hiking enthusiasts gradually developed a 7-mile user-built loop trail connecting scenic vistas atop Cape Horn to a spectacular waterfall below Highway 14. The Cape Horn Trail is an instant hit with hikers thirsty for a rugged route on the sunny side of the Gorge.

Although many would like to see this route adopted into an official trail plan, concerns over user safety and impacts to sensitive flora and fauna are a major sticking point. Specifically, the lower section of the loop has issues. It skirts steep cliffs, traverses talus slopes, passes beneath a waterfall and a Peregrine falcon nesting site. In short, the route visits rare and unique places coveted by hikers, but also by some rare and sensitive plants and animals.

A public meeting to review potential re-routes and discuss an alternative that includes a seasonal closure is scheduled for 6-8 pm, March 18 at the Rock Creek Center, 710 S.W. Rock Creek Drive in Stevenson, WA

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy hiking at Cape Horn? To see a preliminary alternatives and a map developed last year, visit this site.

WTA welcomes your input, post your comments on the blog here or contact Ryan Ojerio, WTA's Southwest WA Regional Coordinator via e-mail or (360) 722-2657.

Comments

Meeting Summary

Hi Folks a quick summary of key points that I gathered from last night's meeting. Please feel free to add comments or corrections.

Alternatives
The FS presented four alternatives for a trails plan. One is a no action alternative that would mean no trails are designated and trail closures would likely occur to protect natural resources. The alternative that is most similar the current trail calls for extensive re-routing of the lower trail and a seasonal closure during the Peregrine falcon nesting period (January 1 to July 1). Enforcement of the seasonal closure would include signage and education followed by law enforcement action and possible citations. The proposed closure would be for the entire lower trail segment below Hwy 14.

Peregrine falcon
David Anderson (WDFW) gave a synopsis of Peregrine falcon background and rationale for a seasonal closure including these points. The Cape Horn nesting site is one of three active sites in the Gorge. Peregrine populations have increased statewide since the mid-80's but populations in the Gorge have not been as successful as other parts of the state. Natural sites are more valuable that sites on bridges or buildings because they are more productive. Fledgling mortality is higher in urban environments, particularly bridge nesting sites that lack the updrafts found along cliffs that aid fledgling flight. Scientists don't know (with good precision) the amount and type of disturbance that would trigger abandonment or lowered reproductive success. Seasonal closures for nesting raptors are a common management tool where recreational uses coincide with nesting habitat.

Next Steps
The FS will review public comments from this meeting and begin the analysis phase. The alternatives presented at this meeting might be modified based on comments received. The results of the analysis and a preferred alternative will be written in an Environmental Assessment (EA). It is anticipated that the EA will be completed in May and there will be a 30 day public comment period to follow.

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Ryan Ojerio on Mar 19, 2009 10:43 AM