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Gorge Towns to Trails plan praised

Trail touts boost for recreation, tourism, environmental protections

Portland — The four U.S. senators from Washington and Oregon and a Congressional representative have sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service expressing strong support for a trail vision to connect Gorge communities to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the famed National Scenic Area.

The vision for Gorge Towns to Trails links communities to the National Scenic Area through a comprehensive trail system, supporting low-impact recreation, benefiting tourism and highlighting and enhancing the beauty and wonder of the Columbia Gorge.

In a recent letter to Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Kent Connaughton, senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington, senators Wyden and Merkley of Oregon and Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon praised the GTT concept as a “unique opportunity.”

According to GTT concept creators, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, advancing the National Scenic Area Act’s two goals of preserving the Gorge and promoting sustainable economic opportunities within its communities, is at the heart of the vision.

The plan has already received support from diverse partners such as the National Park Service, Beacon Rock State Park, the cities of Washougal, North Bonneville, Stevenson, Mosier and Lyle and the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce.

In total, more than 40 entities have listed themselves as supporters of the vision.

Modeled loosely on a European-style system where trails link urban centers, Friends envisions Gorge visitors using Gorge communities as hubs for multi-day trekking opportunities.

Support from the Northwest Congressional delegation is crucial as the first step in bringing this vision to reality, as it is the acquisition of critical lands that makes the connections possible.

“With these proposed trail segments, 80-90 percent of the corridors are already public land,” said Kevin Gorman, executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “Acquisition funds from Congress would create corridors connections, which not only can connect communities to the National Scenic Area, but also preserve habitat corridors critical for sensitive species.”

The GTT proposal includes three trail visions. The first is an approximate 34-mile corridor connecting the Washington communities of Washougal, North Bonneville and Stevenson.

A linear trail could connect Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge to the Cape Horn Trail, Beacon Rock State Park and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail before ending in Stevenson.

As the gateway to the Gorge, Washougal, Wash., already sees the value of this trail and has gained support from local business supporters.

Wes Hickey, of Lone Wolf Investments and Washougal Main Street revitalization developer, states: “Gorge communities are becoming recognized as great places to live, work, recreate and visit. As the gateway to the Gorge, Washougal is excited about what Gorge Towns to Trails can do for our community.”

Skamania County has signed on as a supporter of Gorge Towns to Trails and sees this as an opportunity to capitalize on a situation where the county largely consists of public land.

“This initiative brings trekking from town to town, providing a different economic benefit than the typical wilderness-style hiking,” says Skamania County Commissioner Paul Pearce. “This carries a clear, positive economic impact for our communities.”

The second trail vision would follow the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail between Hood River and Mosier. In Mosier, the trail would proceed from a city park, through a private, donated easement and on to the Mosier Plateau, a 45-acre property owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust.

A potential trail could head east, traversing the Memaloose wildflower area, connecting to the Tom McCall Preserve and continuing along Seven Mile Hill before dropping down to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center where it could connect to the 9-mile Riverfront Trail in The Dalles.

“Mosier’s visitors and residents will be able to walk from downtown to a city park, past a waterfall to 40 acres of flowers and a breathtaking Gorge viewpoint,” said Mosier City Council member Kathy Fitzpatrick.

“A hike can end with dinner at the restaurant or a beer at the pub without ever getting back in your car. It’s a one-stop Gorge experience!”

The final trail vision would connect the Cherry Orchard Trail on land owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust to the town of Lyle, Wash.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge has already signed an agreement with the Lyle High School that allows a trailhead in the high school parking lot in exchange for the school’s use of the property for educational and recreation purposes.

Lyle Community Council member Pam Essley expressed her support for Gorge Towns to Trails and stated that “This project brings positive energy a greater sense of community unity through participation, increased community pride, and a healthier, more active Lyle.”

“Gorge Towns to Trails has received a lot of local support up and down the Gorge,” said Renee Tkach, project manager for this effort. “The letter from our federal elected officials tells everyone who loves this project, ‘We hear you and we want to help.’”

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