Multnomah Falls Lodge reopens to visitors
The Forest Service is ready to lift the veil on Multnomah Falls.
The plaza outside Multnomah Falls Lodge — plus the information center, gift shop and restaurant inside — are open to the public as of Wednesday, Nov. 29. The scenic site has been closed since Sept. 4 following the Eagle Creek Wildfire.
But tourists and local nature lovers will have to battle for just 186 parking spots inside the gated lot between east and westbound Interstate 84.
"And when they are full, they are full. The gates (will) shut and that is the only access at this time," warned Maintenance Manager Kent Kalsch. "We don't want people backing down ramps or doing anything unsafe, so we ask that people plan their trips accordingly."
"I think there will be high visitation this first week," he continued.
Multnomah Falls Lodge will stay open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and out-of-towners who miss that window are welcome to snap a photo from the I-84 parking lot that will be open 24 hours a day.The lower viewing platform, iconic cement-carved Benson Bridge and the hike to the top of the waterfall are still closed. Visitors can glimpse Multnomah Falls through foliage from the now-open plaza.
The parking lot adjacent to the Historic Columbia River Highway will stay shut because there are damaged trees surrounding it. There are no plans for the Columbia Gorge Express shuttle service to resume trips in the short term.
Daytrippers should also avoid taking the Historic Highway, as the road is closed from Bridal Veil to Ainsworth State Park. Nearby Benson State Recreation Area is also shuttered.
The U.S. Forest Service has already spent over $600,000 restoring the Lodge. The private concessionaire that leases the building took "a big hit," it said — forced to lay off about 100 seasonal workers and toss all the soft merchandise ruined by smoke.
"It's been a really hard struggle for us," said Multnomah Falls Company Vice President Jill Buck, whose grandfather started the company. "Some things can be restored (but) the majority of our things had to be replaced."
Workers scurried to restock the shelves during a tour on Tuesday, Nov. 28, including Trevor Bosworth, one of 50 employees now on the payroll.
"The fire got pretty close, but it didn't really damage it," said Bosworth, who has worked for the company for about two months. "It smelled like smoke."The Forest Service hopes to restore public access to the lower viewing platform in early 2018, once hazardous trees have been felled, rock scalers have knocked loose debris off the slopes and a fence has been rebuilt.
"The rockfall analysis indicated to us that the slopes behind the lodge have the potential to hit the lodge with pretty large rockfall that could kill somebody or damage the building," noted engineering geologist Ryan Cole. "Getting material and installing fences takes time."
The iconic Benson Bridge — a picture-postcard span that stars in many a selfie — awaits the reconstruction of the wooden Shady Creek Bridge, which crosses a smaller stream.
The Shady Creek is currently blackened by flames, but foresters estimate the path to Benson Bridge should be open by next summer.
There is no timeline for reopening the full hike to the top, and officials say the wait could stretch another year. Oregon Department of Transportation workers are required to cut down every towering timber within two tree lengths of a spot traveled by humans.
It's possible that bad weather could cause another emergency closure of the entire site. Alerts can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa, or by calling the Lodge Information Center at 503-695-2372.