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Columbia Gorge Trails Reopen After Fire

Gorge area hikers rejoice! After more than a year of burn closures, several trails affected by the Eagle Creek Fire are back in business.

After more than a year of burn closures, the entirety of the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon is now open, including access to seven previously close trails; Angels Rest, Wahkeena, Return Trail, Devil's Rest, Vista Point, Larch Mountain, and Horsetail Falls Trail to Ponytail Falls. 

A lot of hard work from the Forest Service and Oregon State Parks and organizations working together went into reopening the trails this year. Many of Washington Trails Association's experienced volunteers crossed the river to lend their labor and expertise to the effort. Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO), Pacific Crest Trail Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge trained volunteers to do trail work, led crews, monitored the spread of invasive plants and acted as trailhead ambassadors.

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The view from Angel's Rest. Photo by ejain.

The Eagle Creek Fire

In the summer of 2017, a teenager with illegal fireworks started a fire in the Columbia River Gorge. The Eagle Creek Fire burned nearly 50,000 acres and affected 120 miles of trails, including iconic and popular routes such as Eagle CreekAngel’s Rest, Ruckel Creek, Oneonta Gorge and many more.

Given the geology and steep slopes of the Columbia Gorge, the trails affected by the Eagle Creek Fire were particularly vulnerable to erosion, landslides and fallen trees. The Oregon Department of Transportation worked tirelessly to reopen the full length of the Historic Highway earlier this summer, but ongoing rockslides made it impossible to keep the road clear and safe.

A year later, more than 50 miles of trails still remain closed due to the threat of rockslides and hazardous trees — but the fire also sparked the passion of many who answered the call to volunteer.

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Volunteers with a Trailkeepers of Oregon work party construct a rock wall  near Ainsworth State Park in the spring during Trail Skills College, which is a collaborative event among various trail work organizations. Photo courtesy TKO crew leader, Claudio Berstein.

Many trails that remain closed are being restored by volunteers who have specialized training and permission to work in these areas.

“Having the trail closed actually helps our volunteers because they can take the time to fully rebuild parts of the trail. Before the fire, we couldn’t do that safely with the high volumes of foot traffic,” said TKO Executive Director Steve Kruger. “The outpouring of support from the community has been really inspiring. It’s been especially helpful to have people who have gained a lot of experience on WTA work parties come help lead TKO events.”

According to Steve, TKO held 165 trail events in 2018—and consistently had work parties fill up within hours of posting them.

Know Before you go

Although several trail have been reopened, it's important to use caution while you explore.

  • Burn zones are at a higher risk for fallen trees, flash floods, landslides and debris flows—which are all more prevalent in the winter season with heavy wind and rainfall.
  • Be sure to respect signs, barrier fences and always stay aware of your surroundings.

Before heading out on your next Gorge hike, check the weather forecast and trail status and conditions:

Comments

Ken Giesbers on Columbia Gorge Trails Reopen After Fire

A minor clarification:

Sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway were permanently destroyed (blasted) when the I-80N freeway (now I-84) was built decades ago. Other sections are permanently closed to motor vehicles, but open to foot and bicycle traffic. Where the road was destroyed, a project is in work to build additional bike/pedestrian trail to reconnect the ends (Troutdale in the west; The Dalles in the east).

So when you read “the entirety of the Historic Columbia River Highway”, just realize that it is not all 74 miles of the original road. For information on which sections are drivable, hikable, or neither, refer to:
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/regions/pages/historic-columbia-river-highway.aspx

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Ken Giesbers on Dec 07, 2018 03:24 PM