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ODOT submits plans for new Historic Hwy segment

enderings provide a glimpse of what trail features hikers and bikers might expect to see on a new 1.2-mile section of the restored Columbia River Historic Highway. At top, a rendering of a viewpoint near Hole-in-the-Wall Falls.

enderings provide a glimpse of what trail features hikers and bikers might expect to see on a new 1.2-mile section of the restored Columbia River Historic Highway. At top, a rendering of a viewpoint near Hole-in-the-Wall Falls.

Work likely won’t start on it for at least a few months, but construction plans for the next phase of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail have been submitted to the county for permitting.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has submitted plans to build a 1.2-mile section of bike and pedestrian trail that will roughly run from the current Starvation Creek State Park, located about seven miles west of Hood River, to Lindsey Creek to the west. There it will dead end until the next 2.7-mile section of trail, which will run from Lindsey Creek to Wyeth, is constructed.

The small section of trail is part of a larger plan to reconnect the remaining orphaned stretches of road that once made up the majestic Columbia River Highway: a thoroughfare that during its heyday ran uninterrupted through the Gorge from Troutdale in the west to The Dalles in the east.

The road fell out of favor with motorists once the speedier Interstate 84 (then I80N) was completed in the 1960s, with some portions of the Historic Highway dynamited away to make a path for the freeway. However, with the establishment of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area in 1986, the Oregon State Legislature tasked ODOT with restoring and reconnecting 73 miles of the highway between Troutdale and Hood River. Today, all but 10 miles of the reconnection has been completed.

Geotechnical work began late this spring to analyze subsurface conditions of the future trail site, but construction of the actual trail, which would likely commence with tree removal in some sections, “could start as early as this winter, depending on the permit,” noted Kristin Stallman, ODOT’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator.

Updated plans for the 1.2-mile section of trail include the removal of a previously proposed scenic overlook for Lindsey Creek Falls, but Stallman says the trail will still provide plenty of opportunities for hikers and bikers to pause and take in the beauty of the natural features that surround the trail.

“Our idea is to bring people to the beauty spots, because that’s what (Samuel) Lancaster wanted to do when he originally built the highway,” Stallman explained.

One of those beauty spots includes a “lower-key” area where travelers can step off the trail near Wonder Creek: a stream that Stallman said is typically underground but will often bubble to the surface during times of high water. She explained porous fill will be used under the paved pathway so that the stream can continue to flow.

Another spot includes a proposed ADA-accessible overlook and interpretive display at Hole-in-the-Wall Falls, which Stallman refers to as “the only manmade waterfall in the Gorge.” The waterfall is actually a diversion of a natural fall, Warren Falls, which was diverted by ODOT in the late 1930s to prevent washouts of the Historic Highway. Today, Warren Falls only exists during periods of heavy rain in the winter and spring.

Nearby, a new concrete bridge will be built over Warren Creek not far from the rustic wooden bridge that currently traverses the stream. That structure will remain despite the construction of the new bridge.

The new infrastructural features on the trail are designed to be architecturally and aesthetically similar to others on the Historic Highway. Renderings show the bridge over Warren Creek will look similar to the one built over McCord Creek near Cascade Locks that was dedicated nearly a year ago as part of another refurbished section of the highway. Stallman said the concrete on the Warren Creek Bridge and other parts of the trail will be chemically weathered so as to appear aged.

In addition to infrastructure construction, work on the new segment of trail will also feature the removal of invasive weeds, particularly large patches of Himalayan blackberry bushes that have taken over sections near where the highway once ran.

With construction aimed to start in winter of this year or by spring 2015, the trail isn’t scheduled to open for another two years.

“We want to give us some room because we don’t know what kind of issues may come up in construction,” Stallman explained.

The completion of the newest trail segment is also designed to align with a 100-year celebration of the Historic Highway — the first section of which was dedicated in 1916. Once that section of trail is open, Stallman said that “if all goes well,” ODOT would move forward on construction for the next section of trail that would continue west from Lindsey Creek to Wyeth, with a current estimated completion date of mid-2017.

Eric Walker, principal planner for the Hood River County Planning Department, said a public notice regarding the project will likely be published in the News within the next week. That will then trigger the planning department’s formal review process for the permit, which Walker said would likely take “a few months” due to the complexity of the application.


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