As of Friday, March 30, 2018
Spring hikers returning to the Gorge will notice a boosted safety and education presence at trailheads.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge, an environmental conservation group, is teaming up with natural resources and tourism agencies to launch the volunteer “trail ambassador” program in April.
This will be the first prime visitor season since the Eagle Creek fire ripped through almost 49,000 acres of scenic land, leaving miles of scarred terrain that’s still too dangerous for public access. Some destinations have reopened, while most of the stretch between Wyeth and Bridal Veil remains closed.
Friends’ volunteers will post up at some of the busiest trailheads in the Mt. Hood National Forest and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on weekends during peak visitor season. They will share information on trail closures, post-fire details, and good hiking practices.
“We know that hikers are eager to return to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood region this spring, and we want to make their experience as safe and positive as possible,” Kevin Gorman, Friends executive director, said.
Ambassadors will be at Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, Trillium Lake, Dog Mountain and Cape Horn. Other possible spots haven’t yet been confirmed.
The volunteers will share responsible hiker ethics like “Leave No Trace,” and steer people to ReadySetGorge.com, an online tool for planning Gorge hiking trips.
Gorman said the ambassador program came out of a similar volunteer endeavor by Friends last year at Dog Mountain, which gets heavy use on summer weekends.
As an example, Gorman recalled two hikes he took at Dog Mountain last year.
The first trip, on a Thursday, he noted that most people seemed respectful and well prepared for the arduous hike.
On a Saturday, it was completely different. The hiking experience descended into a “tailgate party” atmosphere, he said. Most of the hikers hadn’t been there before, and few had maps or other gear needed for the journey.
Agencies have tried curbing the annual congestion at Dog Mountain. The Forest Service started a paid permit system this year, for instance, though Gorman expects some challenges will remain.
After Friends posted volunteers at the trail, they heard from law enforcement officials that just having a presence at the trailhead helped prevent break-ins.
Educating people about where to hike and where to avoid can be difficult.
Gorman noted that after living through the Eagle Creek fire, most Gorge residents are open to advice about safety and best practices when hiking through the area, such as obeying closures. But some visitors don’t bring the same respect for the Scenic Area.
“If you experienced (the fire) firsthand, you have an understanding for what mother nature can do,” Gorman said.
The goal behind the trail ambassador program is reaching the people who are open to learn.
Gorman said on Wednesday the group had about 50 volunteers signed up for the program — about halfway to their 100-person goal.
Volunteers are required to participate in a minimum of four shifts (six hours each) this spring and summer, and to attend one volunteer training (more could be scheduled for early summer):
- Saturday, April 7, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Marine Park Pavilion, 395 S.W. Portage Road, Cascade Locks.
- Saturday, April 14, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., REI, 1405 NW Johnson St., Portland.
For the program, Friends teamed up with the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Regional Tourism Alliance, the U.S. Forest Service, and Oregon State Parks.
For complete Trailhead Ambassador Program details and access to the online volunteer application, go to gorgefriends.org/ambassadors.