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Recreation renaissance in Cascade Locks

Wayfinding, stewardship, connectivity are keys

Mountain biking, kayaking, cycling, hiking, sailing, kite boarding and windsurfing are more than just great sports activities in the Columbia Gorge. They represent a significant regional economic engine — fueled by growing participation —which yields substantial local spending.

For Cascade Locks, the newly articulated goal to become an easy-access hub for each of these sports within the Gorge is creating citizen excitement and outside investment opportunities.

A rich and well-articulated plan is now in the hands of Cascade Locks port and city staff, which provides step-by-step guidance on how to achieve that goal. Now, all that is needed is a small crew of local residents and outside helpers to bring that dream to fruition.

“Tourism is a key industry for us in the Gorge,” said Chuck Daughtry, port director. “We are planning to have world-class access points for all of these recreation sports. We will also have direct access to old-growth forest trails right from an urban area.”

The “Connect Cascade Locks” planning document was crafted by Portland State University graduate students in the Celilo Planning Studio. The primary focus of the year-long project was to increase economic development prospects for the town by creating a regionally integrated recreation trails network to attract people, bikes, boards and watercraft into the heart of the community.

“Creating a trails stewardship group will be one of our top priorities,” said Daughtry, who notes that outside groups such as the Northwest Trails Alliance and the International Mountain Biking Association have already provided some assistance to the plan and beginning projects.

“We really want people from Cascade Locks to get more involved and take on the tasks of helping with trail access, signage, maintenance and mapping,” he said.

“This comes at a great time for Cascade Locks as we are seeing the completion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail between Troutdale and Cascade Locks by next summer,” said Holly Howell, port RARE AmeriCorps volunteer. “We will benefit from the opening of that trail.”

That upcoming event, slated for late August 2013, is part of the key idea of increasing “connectivity” for the town.

With improved connections to a variety of sports and outlying population centers, plus local “stewards” getting trail access points well-marked (making “wayfinding” easier for visitors), the town really needs only two additional components to achieve the economic hub concept: amenities.

As existing natural attractions are better exposed and made easily accessible, the town hopes to attract investments in businesses that provide services to trail users and day visitors, along with local residents.

The plan looks to increase food, lodging, supply and entertainment options for visitors and local users alike.

“We think this whole plan will improve livability for locals. Already, with the construction of the easyCLIMB trail, we’ve made parts of our forest accessible to our town that hadn’t been accessible for generations,” said Howell.

The easyCLIMB mountain bike trail has already become a favorite with locals and visitors. Recent workshops and trail building crews have packed the fun biking path with many enthusiasts.

A final key component, to be handled primarily by city staff, will be the town’s commitment to developing new and recurring recreational events that bring new users to the town’s trails hub.

“We are already hosting laser sailing races, the Cascade Locks to Crown Point race, this year’s State Short Track Mountain Bike Championship (Aug. 12) and the Doublecross cyclocross event (Sept. 15-16),” said Howell. More events are in the development stage for the coming year.

With port and city guidance, help from local citizens and some key outside volunteers and investors, Cascade Locks hopes to turn its “diamond in the rough” image into a sparkling gemstone whose buffed-up value will support generations to come.

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