August 17, 2005
Over the next 40.7 miles, Oregon Congressmen Greg Walden and Earl Blumenauer will climb and descend 9,000 vertical feet.
They’ll cross at least 13 streams, summit a few mountains, pass by lakes, rivers and two ski areas.
Along the Timberline Trail, they’ll walk through huckleberry fields and mountain biking trails, natural features some Oregonians want to protect and features others want to exploit.
When they emerge on Thursday – four days after beginning – they hope have a better understanding of how to protect one of Oregon’s most important geologic features.
“We love this place,” Walden said at a Monday morning press conference at Timberline Lodge a half-hour before slinging his 35-pound pack over his back. “We enjoy recreating here on this mountain, as do four million other people. And there’s only going to be more (visitors). We want a great place to visit but we want to maintain it.”
The four-day hike between Walden, the Hood River Republican and Blumenauer, the Portland Democrat, is the most recent step in the congressmen’s three-year effort to create a Mount Hood management plan that protects the mountain and its natural resources and, at the same time, protects access to those who use it, like mountain bikers, Walden said.
“We have millions of visitors here,” Blumenauer said. “Almost a million who rely on it for drinking water. There’s so much history, so many varied interests.”
Along the way, the congressmen will meet with biologists, ecologists, entomologists, botanists and other experts who will demonstrate the importance of Mount Hood as a habitat.
Sometime after they emerge from the forest, the Congressmen will draft a plan that they believe will successfully navigate its way through Congress to the president’s pen.
“This is a grassroots plan from the bottom up,” Walden said.
The plan is likely to include expanded Wilderness designations in the forest, but could attempt to protect Mount Hood with less traditional tools.
“Why not have different forms of protection?” Walden asked while hiking toward the trail. “Some Congressman wrote the Wilderness Act in ‘64. We’re Congressmen. Why can’t we do something different to protect the unique qualities of this mountain? My approach to this is to think outside the box.”