Centennial events, guide book point the way to summer fun

COURTESY PHOTO - The Columbia River Gorge, including Ruthton Point near Hood River, is only a short drive away for Portland-area residents.It used to be that we drove to the Columbia River Gorge just to see the waterfalls and wildflowers.

Those are still top attractions, but nowadays, the gorge — one of Oregon’s top visitor destinations for locals and tourists alike — is known for so much more than just scenic hikes.

Thanks to a host of events celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Historic Columbia River Highway this summer — and a new book called “Columbia River Gorge Getaways: 12 Weekend Adventures, from Towns to Trails” — it’s never been easier to explore the lesser-known parts of this backyard oasis, all within 115 miles of Portland.

In her book, Portland author Laura O. Foster provides a dozen sample itineraries for the weekend travel warrior from Portland, or anyone with out-of-town guests.

More than just a list of locations, she offers carefully curated experiences that include a lot more surprises than you’d think: sandy beaches as well as historic riverfront towns, boutique shopping as well as classic comfort food fare.

COURTESY PHOTO - Windsurfers are a constant sight near Hood River.“You just open up the chapter and there’s three days worth of activities,” Foster tells the Tribune. “You don’t have to plan anything, other than the hotel room.”

“Gorge Getaways” is Foster’s first book under her own publishing company, Towns to Trails Media. She’s a familiar name, as author of several other guidebooks including “Portland Hill Walks,” “Portland Stair Walks” and her other new release, “Walking with Ramona,” detailing Beverly Cleary’s walking routes through her Northeast Portland neighborhood.

Up next, Foster is working on a book about sights along the Mount Hood loop.

For the gorge book, Foster spent the past two years, off and on, scouting locations to include. She wrote the book in partnership with Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the nonprofit group of members, volunteers and activists who work to conserve and protect the land and promote its communities’ economies.

Foster relays a lot of the local history of the region — in particular the timber industry, dams, Native American culture and salmon fishing — to deepen the visitor experience beyond what visitors can see today.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Vista House has long been a tourist attraction in the Columbia River Gorge.First scenic highway

Even without the guide book in hand, it’s easy to soak up some of the history and culture of the area this summer through the Historic Columbia River Highway celebrations that continue through the fall.

Jeannette Kloos, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, helped organize the events in and around five Gorge communities: Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles.

“The cities are welcoming additional people (for the events) and wanting them to come back and spend time in their cities,” she says. “We want to remind people this was the first scenic highway in the country.”

For instance, the special centennial antique car tour on July 23 will wind through Troutdale, stop at the Vista House in Corbett, break for lunch in Cascade Locks, continue through Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles with a parade in each of those towns, and end at the Discovery Center in The Dalles for barbecue and brews.

COURTESY PHOTO - Vintage cars were part of the Historic Columbia River Highway 100th anniversary celebration in early June.When Kloos helped lead the 75th anniversary celebration 25 years ago, the gorge was a lot different in one way, she says: There were no major traffic jams around the waterfalls.

Now, that’s a major problem for residents, which is why community leaders and the Oregon Department of Transportation are promoting car-free ways to get to the gorge — either by bike or shuttle (Columbia Gorge Express or Gray Line Tours).

Visitors are also encouraged to see the gorge at off-peak times: leaving earlier or later in the day, on weekdays, or in the spring, fall or winter.

The other big difference between now and 25 years ago, Kloos says, is that the public has much more access to enjoy the gorge now.

Twelve miles of hiking and biking trails are connected to the drivable portions of the highway.

Another 1.3 miles will open in September, between Lindsey Creek and Starvation Creek. And another 3 miles will open in 2018. That leaves 5 more miles that Kloos hopes will be developed in the near future; applications for federal funding are in the works.

“The goal is to be able to ride a bike from Troutdale to The Dalles without being on Interstate 84,” she says. “If you don’t finish the trails, you’re still on the I-84 shoulder for five miles. While it is legal to be on the interstate on a bike, it’s not very pleasant. Once it’s a continuous facility, we expect it’ll be a lot more people coming to have that experience.”

The local communities in the gorge are embracing tourism as the next wave of their economic development, Kloos says. “They see that a tourist coming by on a bicycle stops and does more things than a person doing 65 miles per hour on a freeway.”

The centennial celebration for the Historic Columbia River Highway was in early June. The 100-year anniversary of the Eagle Creek Recreation Area took place July 15.

Here’s a look at some of the upcoming centennial events this month:

Coming up Saturday, July 23: Troutdale SummerFest — The family-friendly event kicks off at 8 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, parade at 11 a.m. and Family Fun in Glenn Otto Park at 5 p.m., with other events and activities throughout the day; Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway Antique Car Tour — A parade of antique cars will travel from Troutdale to the Gorge Discovery Center, stopping in towns along the way.

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