Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
BURNED TREES loom on one side of a Gorge trail, while greenery surrounds the other. The U.S. Forest Service and partners are studying the Eagle Creek Burned Area, and have so far found that trails west of Multnomah Falls are in the poorest shape.
It’s a scene of mixed results at the Eagle Creek burned area, with trails east of Cascade Locks faring better than the scorched terrain west of Multnomah Falls.
Crews have the bulk of their work cut out for them at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge.
U.S. Forest Service crews and partners have made progress assessing more than 20 miles of trails on National Forest System lands within the burned area, and volunteers have begun helping repair trails east of Cascade Locks, said Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the national scenic area.
Crews found a range of conditions from low burn severity to treacherous sections where washouts, landslides, and heavily burned conditions make trails hard to follow. Trails assessed first had relatively lower burn severities, gentler terrain, and/or lower risks of debris flows. All of these trails remain closed to the public at this time, due to post-fire hazards on the landscape, the Forest Service said.
Among trails assessed so far, those that fared best include parts of Gorge 400 Trail, Gorton Creek Trail, Herman Creek Trail, Ridge Cutoff 437, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Repair work has begun on some of these trails already, but none of them yet has an expected date for reopening.
Other trails suffered. About 90 percent of Larch Mountain Trail — the popular trail that starts at Multnomah Falls — is covered with rocks along its route to the Upper Viewing Platform, and is in poor shape through its full loop with Wahkeena Trail.
Nick Eaton Trail is badly burned and difficult to follow, with up to 75 percent of the trail needing repairs. The rock wall at the base of the short Return Trail from Wahkeena Trail to Multnomah Falls has been undercut due to burned vegetation and rock slides. The Horsetail-Oneonta Loop Hike is in treacherous shape, with large washouts and landslides making the trail difficult to follow. Crews were unable to complete their assessment of Wahclella Trail, which is also in poor condition.
One piece of welcome news: crews have confirmed that the Upper Viewing Platform at Multnomah Falls survived the fire intact.
Findings from each trail assessment to date can be found on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website at www.fs.us-da.gov/goto/crgnsa/ongoingresponsework.
Recreation officials are hopeful that some of the federal trails east of Cascade Locks may be able to reopen this spring and summer, but no specific timeframe is available and work is highly weather dependent. New landslides and washouts could cause setbacks by creating more damage.
Trails west of Multnomah Falls, currently in poor condition, are a high priority for repair due to their popularity. Timelines for reopening west end trails remain uncertain, as they will need intensive repair and rebuilding.
Finally, trails within the core area of the fire between Multnomah Falls and Herman Creek were the most severely burned and some trails may take several years to reopen. Many of the remaining trails in the Scenic Area will not be assessed until the winter freeze and thaw cycle, and heavy rains end by late spring.
To help get a jump on the work, the Forest Service is teaming up with the newly formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team and other partners to involve experienced volunteers in trail repair.
“Normally, our trail crews don’t work during winter because conditions are constantly creating new damage, but by enlisting the help of volunteers, we’re hoping to accelerate the reopening process,” Pawlitz said.
While scouting the trails, teams observed post-fire hazards such as smoldering stump holes, standing dead trees weakened by fire, uphill boulders loosened by vegetation, and rock fall and debris flow across trails that make them nearly impassable in places and require off-trail scrambling. Personnel working in the burned area are required to wear protective equipment and follow other strict safety rules to mitigate the hazards.
“Before these trails can open to the public, trail repairs and stabilizations will need to be put into place,” the Forest Service said.
Only trained and experienced volunteers are allowed to work within the closed area as part of approved work outings organized in conjunction with the Forest Service. However, new volunteers can learn skills, gain experience, and help with trail maintenance in the Scenic Area outside of the burned area.
Learn more by visiting www.fs.usda.gov/main/crgnsa/workingtogether.
Due to Eagle Creek fire and related safety concerns in the burn area, most National Forest System lands in the Scenic Area south of the Columbia River, east of Sandy River Delta, north of the National Scenic Area boundary, and west of Hood River have a legal closure in effect until the Forest Service lifts it.
Due to the possibility of smoldering fuels, the fire has been declared contained but not out.