How can Cascade Locks take advantage of its natural beauty and surroundings to attract people to its business sector? How can the small town capitalize on a growing tourism industry; both by attracting visitors as well as supporting small businesses that cater to them? How can an already-existing network of recreational trails be improved or added upon to bring people to town, and to better serve the people who live there? What facilities, services and infrastructure would attract various user groups to the area?

Ultimately, how can trail-based recreation bring economic growth and development to the city of Cascade Locks?

These are just a handful of the many questions a group of six graduate students from Portland State University are out to answer over the next five months. The students, from PSU's Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, will work with the Port of Cascade Locks, local citizens, user groups and a variety of other agencies on a project titled, "Connect Cascade Locks."

The goal of the project is to gather as much information and input as possible and to create a plan for how to promote economic development in and around Cascade Locks, specifically through a regionally integrated recreational trails network.

"Cascade Locks already has a lot of amazing natural resources and some of the best vistas in the Gorge," said project manager Danielle Fuchs. "We are excited to work with a smaller town and help preserve and enhance these resources with the partnership of the community."

The students started their project this week after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Port of Cascade Locks. Areas the team will focus on include connectivity of regional trails, provision of goods and services, opportunities for local businesses and the enhancement of existing local attractions.

Examples of trails that already exist in and around the area range from the world-famous Pacific?Crest Trail, which passes directly through downtown Cascade Locks, and more local hiking trails like Gorge Trail 400 and Dry Creek Falls Trail to a new biking trail called Easy Climb, created on port property. Also in the works is an extensive mountain biking trail network, to be called CLIMB (Cascade Locks International Mountain Bike trail), which is in the federal environmental review process and is expected to get started in 2013.

Another trail project was started recently and when finished will connect Cascade Locks to Troutdale by road and paved trail, allowing cyclists and hikers to travel between he two cities without having to use Interstate 84 (see sidebar for more on this project).

"The timing of the project complements joint efforts by the city and port toward a shared multifaceted economic development strategy, which includes outdoor recreation tourism as just one of several industries in focus," said Holly Howell, Port of Cascade Locks special projects manager.

Howell explained that each year, PSU graduate students working in small teams partner with local communities to address real-world planning challenges. Port staff responded to a request for proposals for planning projects by the graduate program in January. The port's proposal was one of five projects selected by the program out of more than 30 submitted projects.

The team was interested in working with Cascade Locks because it provides an opportunity to work on issues related to active transportation, outdoor recreation and economic development in the Columbia River Gorge.

Throughout the project, the team will gather feedback and data about habits and preferences from user groups like cyclists, mountain bikers and hikers through online surveys. The group also plans to work closely with the people of Cascade Locks, through interviews, surveys and workshops, to gain an understanding of what visions and ideas the community has for its recreational trail systems.

Community workshops are scheduled for April 3 and 25; details will be posted on the team's website at

"We would really like to know where the overlap lies between trail user needs and community amenities and businesses," explained Chloe Ritter, project outreach coordinator. "Understanding how residents want their town to develop in the future will help us best serve the interest of the community and trail users simultaneously."

Howell said the team also expects to collaborate with regional partners in marketing, planning and developing trails and associated amenities. Potential partners include the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Oregon Department of Transportation, Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, Hood River County, City of Stevenson, Northwest Trail Alliance, International Mountain Biking Association, Pedal Nation Events and the Mazamas.

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