Two Hood River residents have an extra two million reasons to be light on their feet during their next hike through the Gorge.
According to Kristen Stallman, Scenic Area coordinator working with ODOT, Art Carroll and Bill Pattison, volunteer representatives for Hood River County literally "did the leg work," which led to $2,109,000 in federal funding secured for construction of a recreation trail linking Hood River County to Troutdale.
Beginning at John B. Yeon State Park continuing east to Moffett Creek, the new Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail project will add a 1.6-mile, 12-foot-wide multi-use ADA-accessible pathway to its existing trail.
Upon completion of this critical "missing link," hikers and cyclists will no longer have to share the shoulder of I-84 with trucks and cars traveling at 65 mph to traverse the west end of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
"The six citizen advisors of the HCRH Advisory Committee, including Carroll and Pattison, spent hours in the field to figure out the best location for the trail. That put a lot of helpful pressure on the agencies to find the funding," said Stallman.
"The historic highway became the forgotten child once I-84 opened up. But there is so much beauty on this side of the river with wildflowers and moss and so much life," said Pattison. "It will be a world-class trail when it is all completed."
Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, jointly announced the Aug. 18 award of Federal Public Lands Highway Discretionary Funds to support the critical new connecting segment. The advisory group also credits the congressional delegation with supporting the project throughout the funding process.
"Businesses will benefit from the increased accessibility that comes with world-class infrastructure and recreational facilities," said Wyden.
The FPLH funds represent just over 25 percent of the nearly $8 million total project budget which is slated for construction start in February 2012.
"We also received funding from the Oregon Pedestrian Bicycle Program, the Forest Highway Enhancement Program and the Transportation Enhancement Program," said Stallman.
Final costs will be determined once the project goes out to bid.
"Crucially, in the short term, these grants create construction jobs now, all over our state," said Merkley in a press release addressing a total of $14 million in federal transportation funds awarded across the state.
This project will link together sections of the State Trail and the Historic Columbia River Highway creating an uninterrupted scenic corridor connecting the communities of Troutdale, Corbett, Warrendale and Cascade Locks.
"This segment really connects Cascade Locks to, essentially, Portland and that is so important for that community," said Carroll.
Additional on-road connections are also currently available for travelers continuing eastward to Wyeth.
The ODOT-supervised State Trail construction will include a new pedestrian bridge over McCord Creek and extensive retaining wall construction.
The trail will parallel I-84 to the south and cross under I-84 at Moffett Creek to connect with the restored HCRH State Trail.
ODOT anticipates construction will be completed in the summer of 2013.
The trail will be accessible to non-motorized transportation including cyclists, pedestrians and people with disabilities, complementing existing USFS Gorge Trail 400.
Using much of the existing vegetation and topography, the new trail and supporting structures are designed blend into the natural environment.
A 2006 federal appropriation submitted by Congressman Earl Blumenauer secured the $500,000 used to execute the preliminary plans for the project.
"This trail is something that will be here long after we're gone," said Pattison on his reasons for serving as trail committee's chair for the past 12 years. Pattison also served as mayor of Hood River and city councilman.
The HCRH was abandoned and segmented during the construction of I-84. In 1987, the Oregon Legislature directed ODOT to develop a plan to preserve, restore and maintain existing portions of the historic highway and to reconnect missing segments with a state trail.
The goal was to offer recreational opportunities by recreating access to the original historic highway.
The HCRH Advisory Committee and the Friends of the HCRH have jointly spearheaded an effort to restore and reconnect the highway and advocate for the completion of the entire 73-mile State Trail by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the beloved historic highway.
Approximately 11 miles, all within Hood River County, currently still await restoration.
Carroll is finishing eight years of service under the term-limited governor's appointment to the HCRH Advisory Committee this week, becoming an emeritus advisor. Barbara Briggs of Hood River has agreed to become his replacement.
"This was a good way for me, after retirement, to help fulfill the intent of the National Scenic Area Act vision which I believed in," said Carroll, who retired from the U.S. Forest Service as the Area Manager for the National Scenic Area.
New trail segment highlights:
Allows for a 34-mile scenic bike ride between Troutdale and Cascade Locks following along 26 miles of the drivable historic highway and 8 miles on the State Trail
Incorporates a picnic and rest area with restored views of Beacon Rock
Connects to U.S. Forest Service Trail 400 with an opportunity to hike to Elowah Falls
Takes advantage of the existing trailhead at John B. Yeon State Park
Provides access from the west to the historic Moffett Creek Bridge and the HCRH State Trail to Cascade Locks
Provides another ADA-accessible section of the trail for hikers
More regional trail funding news:
According to Pattison, additional State Trail-related funding has also been received to build a half-mile trail segment connecting the Starvation Creek Falls I-84 rest area westward to Hole-in-the-wall Falls.
This $1 million trail will be paid for by Forest Highway Enhancement of Western Federal Lands funds and will create a half-mile addition connecting to the existing mile-long trail running eastward to Viento State Park. Construction will begin in early spring 2013.
The new trail will traverse by a hidden falls called Cabin Creek Falls and provide a view of the baking ovens used to feed the Union Pacific Railroad construction crews in the late 1870s.
Another $72,000 in Federal Department of Transportation funding has been awarded to establish gateway signs and a rest area in the eastern segment of the HCRH. This project will help define the Mosier and The Dalles entrances to the eastern segment of the HCRH.
Phase I of a proposed Mosier "hub" will include a stone monument sign identifying the beginning of the National Scenic Byway, and a site plan for a multi-modal rest area to be developed.
The Dalles gateway sign will be a stone monument that will identify the eastern entrance of the byway adjacent to the Chenoweth Creek Bridge.