Some trails reopen after gorge fire
Two trails and a scenic landmark in the Columbia River Gorge reopened to the public last week, the first since the Eagle Creek wildfire shut down much of the gorge in September.
Vista House, the 2.5-mile Latourell Falls loop and the 0.6-mile Bridal Veil Falls are back on the map, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said on Nov. 22.
Road crews have also re-opened a six-mile stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway between East Larch Mountain Road and Bridal Veil.
"We're looking forward to welcoming folks back to the gorge, but we really need to do it in a sustainable and safe manner," Oregon State Parks Manager Clay Courtright told reporters at a press conference at the Latourell Falls trailhead east of Vista House at Crown Point.
"We're going to ask that hikers are respectful of one another while passing, that they stay on the trails, because this trail isn't used to seeing that level of density of use in a confined area," he continued. "Normally, we'd have 30 trail systems open for folks to disperse their trail usage."
Courtright highlighted the Angel's Rest Trail as being especially damaged. Other paths, like Trail 400, are staying shut because they allow travel to unsafe areas.Between 250 and 300 fire-damaged trees have been chopped down along the open portion of the historic highway, many by rock scalers who rappel down the steep slopes now stripped clean of vegetation, Courtright said.
In September, about 160 ODOT employees were assigned to the gorge — and that doesn't count the dozens of contract lumberjacks, noted Maintenance Manager Kent Kalsch.
There are about 40 to 45 ODOT staffers currently working on cleanup efforts, including historians who ensure old foundations and other artifacts aren't disturbed during tree removal.
"You're constantly trying to proceed ahead and then chasing emergencies as they pop up," Kalsch explained. "A few weeks ago, we had debris flows ... Then the first big rains and winds blew all the dead pine needles out on the freeway and were plugging and flooding the drains."
Chief Deputy Jason Gates with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office offered "a hard truth" to day trippers who ignore the law and end up under a sudden rockslide or snapped tree.
"If people choose to ignore the dangers associated with these trails, and wander into these areas outside the law," he warned, "we're going to do everything we possibly can to come and get you and rescue you. But I can't guarantee that. Because conditions may be such that it's too dangerous for our personnel to go up there."
The Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres since it was started Sept. 2. The blaze was allegedly sparked by a 15-year-old Vancouver boy playing with firecrackers. The boy faces charged with reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest land, unlawful possession of fireworks, criminal mischief and reckless endangering.