Posted tagged ‘Hood River’

Proposal: Waucoma Bicycle Backcountry

June 15, 2012

It’s no secret that mountain bikes have been relegated to second-class status when it comes to recreation trails. They’re not allowed in designated wilderness areas, and even with the special set-asides for mountain bikes called out in the recent Mount Hood Wilderness additions, the trail options around the mountain are limited.

It’s also true that bikes and hikers don’t always mix well. Since I’m both a hiker and cyclist, I’m probably more comfortable than most hikers when it comes to shared trails. I love to hike and bike the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail, for example, but most hikers shy away because of its popularity among mountain bikers.

The view toward Mount Hood from Blowdown Mountain

This article is a proposal for something a little different for mountain bikers: the concept is to convert fading logging roads in a scenic area directly adjacent to the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness to become a dedicated bicycle backcountry. In addition to providing an exciting set of mountain biking trails, the concept would specifically allow for bikepacking — overnight camping at a several destinations that would be bike-in, only.

Most importantly, this new destination would be close to both Portland and the mountain biking hub of Hood River, where bicycle tourism has become an important part of the recreation economy.

[click here for a large, printable map]

The best part of this proposal is that it wouldn’t take much to put the network together. Converting fading roads and constructing just 2.9 miles of new trail (shown in yellow on the map, above) would create a 25-mile bike network of bike-only trails (shown in blue) in an area with terrific scenery, creating as close to a wilderness experience as you can have while on two wheels.

The Proposal

The proposed bicycle backcountry would straddle the high country along Waucoma Ridge, about ten miles due north of Mount Hood. Two main trailheads would serve the backcountry: a new trailhead would be constructed in the headwaters valley of Divers Creek, serving as the primary entry into the bicycle backcountry. The existing Wahtum Lake trailhead would serve as overflow. Both are accessed on paved roads. A third, more remote trailhead would be located at the headwaters of Green Point Creek, accessed by a primitive road.

The view toward Indian Mountain from Waucoma Ridge

Trails

The proposed network has three kinds of bicycle facilities: converted logging roads (dashed blue on the map) functioning as single or dual track routes, new single track bike trails (dashed yellow) and striped bikeways (solid blue) on a short segment of paved Wahtum Lake Road that serves as a critical connection in the proposed network.

The focus of the network is on bicycle loop tours. From the proposed new trailhead, dozens of tour variations are possible, thanks to the dense network of old roads in this area, and the potential to connect and convert them. One out-and-back trail exists, following the Waucoma Road to Indian Mountain (under this proposal, the road would be gated to motor vehicles at the Wahtum Lake trailhead)

Washington’s big volcanoes fill the skyline on the slopes of Indian Mountain

The main focus of the new trail system would be Blowdown Mountain, a surprisingly rugged shield volcano whose gentle summit ridge belies a rugged east face, featuring a craggy volcanic plug rising above a series of forested glacial cirques. An attractive spur road traverses the entire summit ridge of Blowdown Mountain, and would form the spine of the trail network in this part of the bicycle backcountry.

Three small lakes are located in glacial cirques on the northeast flank of the mountain, and views from the high ridges include nearby Mount Hood, to the south, and the high peaks of the Hatfield Wilderness, to the north. The big Washington State volcanoes complete the scene on the northern skyline.

Spring wildflowers line the rustic route Indianhead Ridge with Mount Hood in the distance

The western part of the proposed network focuses on Indianhead Ridge, another high shoulder of the Waucoma Ridge complex, extending south toward the West Fork Hood River. The proposed trail network in this section would include extensive ridge top rides, with panoramic views of Mount Hood and the steep east face of Indian Mountain.

This part of the bicycle backcountry would also encompass the Waucoma Ridge Road, gating and converting the route to bike-only use except for Forest Service vehicles. The road leads through exceptionally scenic terrain, including the former lookout site on Indian Mountain, and fine views into the Eagle Creek valley, within the Hatfield Wilderness. The road, itself, forms the Hatfield Wilderness boundary.

Beautiful Scout Lake in the proposed Waucoma bicycle backcountry

This section of the proposal network also includes seldom-visited Scout Lake, a beautiful forest lake that has historically been stocked with brook trout by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

Campsites

Five bikepacking campsites are proposed along the new trail circuit. One is simply the existing Indian Springs Campground, an excellent but largely forgotten primitive campground in need of repair. New campsites would be located at Ottertail Lake, the Talus Pond near Gray Butte, Mosquito Lake and Scout Lake, with each offering 5-15 tent sites.

Unlike the nearby Hatfield Wilderness, bikepacking campsites in the new backcountry would feature rustic picnic tables, fire rings and secure hitching racks for bicycles — features that aren’t allowed in a wilderness area, but would be welcome additions in the bicycle backcountry.

Mosquito Lake basin from Blowdown Mountain, with Mt. Defiance and Mt. Adams in the distance

What would it take?

The viability of this proposal is in its simplicity: less than three miles of new trail would open a 25-mile network, with dozens of loop options that could be tailored to the ability of individual mountain bikers. Most of the work required could be done with the help of volunteers, from trail building and campsite development to signage and ongoing maintenance. Some heavy equipment would be required to develop the new, main trailhead and decommission vehicle access to converted roads.

The view across Ottertail Lake basin toward Tomlike Mountain and Mt. St. Helens

Of course, the proposal would also require the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF) to fully devote the Waucoma Ridge area to quiet recreation. A few years ago, that would have been unlikely, but in recent years, the agency has not only adopted plans to phase out hundreds of miles of logging roads, but also a policy to focus OHV use in a few, very specific areas of the forest. The recent developments could move this proposal into the realm of the possible if sufficient support exists for a bicycle backcountry.

It would take dedicated support from the mountain biking community to make the case to the Forest Service, ideally in a partnership with the agency that would include volunteer support in developing the trail system.

Cyclist on the new Sandy Ridge trail system, an example of collaboration between the USFS and bicycle advocates (City of Sandy)

The good news is that mountain bicycling organizations are already working hard to develop trails elsewhere in the Mount Hood region (such as the Sandy Ridge trail complex, pictured above) and hopefully would find this proposal worth pursuing. If you’re a mountain biker, you can do your part by forwarding this article to like-minded enthusiasts, or your favorite mountain biking organization. It’s a great project just looking for a champion!
____________

Bikepacking Resources

Bikepacking.net is an online community that focuses on off-road touring, away from cars, with great information on gear, routes and trip planning.

The Adventure Cycling Association posted this helpful article on how to pack for your bikepack trip.

Another good article on what to pack for your bikepack on the WhileOutRiding.com blog.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association is the premier organization and advocate for backcountry bicycling.

In the Mount Hood region, the Northwest Trail Alliance is the IMBA Chapter doing the heavy-lifting on bicycle trail advocacy.

Proposal: Bald Butte Loop

July 26, 2011

Arrowleaf Balsamroot are the stars of the spring wildflower show

Each spring the parking lot at the Dog Mountain trailhead in the Columbia Gorge starts to look like Black Friday at a shopping mall: hundreds of hikers crowd the trail for the classic hike through steep meadows of blooming arrowleaf balsamroot. Who can blame them? The flower show is spectacular, even with the crowds.

But for those seeking a bit more solitude with their wildflowers — and equally impressive views — the hike up Bald Butte in the nearby Hood River Valley is a fine alternative to Dog Mountain. The blooms usually come a few weeks later here, toward the end of May and into June. Because Bald Butte lies well east of the Cascade crest, the weather is usually better here, too.

The beautiful flower display on Bald Butte frames sweeping views of Mount Hood and the Hood River Valley

Measured in travel time from the heart of Portland, Bald Butte is a bit more distant than Dog Mountain. But the somewhat longer drives includes the gorgeous final stretch up the Hood River Valley, which is a treat in itself for hikers.

Diamond in the Rough

So, why doesn’t the Bald Butte trail see more boot traffic? One answer could be the upper trailhead, which is accessed off Surveyors Ridge Road and is the unintended gateway for 4x4s, dirt bikes and quads to illegally enter the area. While the area trails are only open to hikers, bikes and horses, motorized vehicles continue to be a problem.

This 4x4 is driving illegally on the “trail” to Bald Butte

A second reason for fewer visitors at Bald Butte might be the quality of the “trail” from the upper trailhead to the summit. Here, the route officially follows the Surveyors Ridge Trail (No. 688), though the “trail” is actually an old dirt road that once served as access to a fire lookout on the summit of Bald Butte.

The road is not only difficult to enforce as a “trail”, it also provides a substandard hiking surface in many spots, with the illegal OHV use destroying the surface, and leaving a difficult mess of loose cobbles and ruts for hikers to navigate.

OHV damage to the “trail” at Bald Butte will likely require some sections to simply be closed and rehabilitated

Finally, the trail is bisected by the monstrous Bonneville Power Administration transmission corridor. This visual and ecological calamity came into being with the completion of The Dalles Dam in 1957, and is only surpassed by the dam, itself, for the negative impacts it brings to the area (see [link= http://wyeastblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/transmission-corridor-redux/%5DTransmission Corridor Redux[/link]

The BPA Transmission Corridor is a manageable eyesore

Despite these drawbacks, the hike is a spectacular one, and fills a unique niche by providing an early season mountain hike when many trails in the area are still snowed in.

More importantly, there are straightforward solutions for resolving these drawbacks, and thus the Bald Butte trail represents a diamond-in-the-rough opportunity, just waiting to shine. This article proposes a few the solutions that could greatly enhance the hiking experience on Bald Butte, while also mitigating some of the environmental problems that currently exist.

A new vision for Bald Butte

Spring wildflower spectacle on the slopes of Bald Butte

This proposal addresses four issues that currently diminish the Bald Butte trail:

1. Formalizes and manages the upper trailhead to prevent OHVs from straying onto trails.

2. Replaces sections of “road” that currently serve as “trail”.

3. Improves the hiking experience where the route crosses the BPA corridor.

4. Establishes a loop trail system that allows for better mixing of bikes and hikers.

Above all, the new trail connections in this proposal enhance the scenic experience for hikers by simply bringing them through more of the open meadows that are the main attraction — just as the newer, redesigned trails on Dog Mountain focus on the meadows and river views.

The following maps show these key elements for improving the trails at Bald Butte. The major new addition would be a loop trail starting at the lower end of the Oak Ridge Trail, and climbing the open slopes of Bald Butte.

[click here for a larger map]

The Surveyors Ridge Trail from the upper trailhead to the summit, where it follows the old road, would be converted to become a true trail. The new sections would be built across the BPA Corridor and along the south summit approach to Bald Butte. The current dirt road segments could then be completely decommissioned, giving the butte a much-needed rest from off-highway vehicles.

[click here for a larger map]

The BPA corridor, itself, would also be managed differently. Under this proposal, the Bonneville Power Administration would designate a scenic unit where the transmission corridor passes over the shoulder of Bald Butte. The agency would then manage the vegetation under the transmission lines with an eye toward integrating the corridor with the adjacent forests and meadows, and providing the best possible hiking experience.

This element of the proposal could be a pilot project for better management of BPA tranmission corridors in other areas, with new best-management practices developed to address OHVs, dumping, invasive species and other nuisances that tend to follow the BPA corridors. The proposed scenic unit is shown in purple on the proposal maps.

The main draw in the proposal would be a new trail crossing the open slopes of Bald Butte. This is an exceptionally scenic area, and the trail concept could be patterned after the “new” trail on Dog Mountain, with an eye toward creating a world-class hiking experience.

[click here for a larger map]

In addition to the spring wildflower spectacle, this expanded trail system on Bald Butte would provide a nearly year-round hiking and biking opportunity. The loop design would also allow for bikes to remain on the Oak Ridge Trail, with the new trail limited to hikers. This would allow hikers looking for a loop trip to use both trails, but reserving the new route for those uneasy with shared hike/bike routes.

Finally, the upper trailhead would be retained in this proposal, despite the problems it currently brings with illegal activity. The short access road to the trailhead is unsigned, poorly maintained and the surrounding area is in a raw, semi-developed state that sets the stage for the unlawful activities that occur here.

To help remedy the situation, the trailhead could be formalized and improved to appeal to legitimate forest visitors — families looking for a shorter hike or bike to the summit of Bald Butte or along the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail, for example. Despite the presence of the BPA towers, the view toward Mount Hood from the upper trailhead is sweeping, and could even serve as a picnic site or more formal viewpoint for motorists touring the area.

How to Visit Bald Butte Now

There is no need to wait until the trails at Bald Butte have been improved, as the current routes provide for terrific hike, especially in spring and early summer.

The Oak Ridge Trail serves as the first leg of the hike, beginning from the trailhead of the same name, just off Highway 35. The route then follows the Surveyors Ridge Trail past the BPA corridor and to the summit, following the old lookout road for the final segment.

A detailed hike description, with maps and photos is provided on the Portland Hikers.org Field Guide:

Bald Butte Hike Description

Enjoy!

CLIMB (the un-casino)

June 29, 2011

Mountain biking is a natural fit for the Gorge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With the controversy (apparently) behind us on the now-defunct Cascade Locks casino proposal, conservationists have focused their Gorge concerns on a Nestle Corporation proposal: truck bottled water from a natural spring at a little-known fish hatchery on the edge of Cascade Locks (described in this WyEast Blog article)

The Nestle proposal is a bad idea on so many levels, and ought to be stopped. But the fracas over Nestles has overshadowed a very good idea known as the Cascade Locks International Mountain Bike Trail, or CLIMB. The concept is to simply build on the network of existing trails, old forest roads and a few new trails to create a world-class mountain biking destination, accessible from downtown of Cascade Locks.

Mountain bikers on a wintry Oakridge Trail (photo: Travel Oregon)

This proposal is exactly the kind of quiet recreation-oriented tourism strategy that put Hood River back on the map after the timber collapse in the early 1980s, and has the potential to revitalize Cascade Locks as well. The former mill town of Oakridge has kicked off a similar effort to foster bike tourism, advertising itself as the “Mountain Biking Capital of Northwest”, and bringing an impressive network of trails online over just a few years. These communities provide working examples for Cascade Locks in making a successful transition to a tourism-based economy.

Conservationists should be enthusiastically supporting the CLIMB idea, and any others like it that build on the natural and scenic character of the Gorge, as a counterpoint to the justified opposition to clunker schemes like the casino and Nestle plant that would harm the Gorge.

CLIMB West

The Cascade Locks proposal begins with a new trail traversing above the community from a western trailhead near the Bridge of the Gods to an eastern terminus at the Oxbow Fish Hatchery (where Nestle proposes to bottle the natural springs by the semi-truck load).

[click here for larger map]

Along the way, the proposed trail would cross Dry Creek, intersecting the primitive access road that follows the creek upstream to beautiful Dry Creek Falls.

Curiously, the proposal does not incorporate this old road into the mountain bike network — a missed opportunity to close the route to ATVs and motorcycles that routinely use the road to loop onto the Pacific Crest Trail. Cyclists would likely find their way to the falls, of course, but including this road segment in the system would be a great way to transition the route (and surrounding area) to quiet recreation.

Dry Creek Falls

Another missing link in the western portion of the network is from the Oxbow Fish Hatchery to Herman Creek. While the terrain here is challenging, making this connection on trails — as opposed to following the freeway frontage road, as shown in the draft plan — could be critical to the viability of the network as a system based in Cascade Locks. The goal for the project should be for cyclists to start and end their tour in Cascade Locks, not at trailheads located east of town along forest roads (though that would certainly occur, as well).

Hopefully, the plan can at least include a long-term concept for making a new trail connection across Herman Creek to fully integrate the trail system with the town of Cascade Locks.

CLIMB East

Most of the proposed CLIMB network is located along the corridor between Herman Creek and Wyeth, with a combination of new trails and existing routes that would create a number of loops and interesting destinations, with trail access at several points along the way.

[click here for larger map]

This part of the proposal envisions using Trail 400 and a short segment of the Herman Creek Trail as part of the network, a move that hikers might be leery of, but one that is highly workable and necessary to create trail loops. Trail 400 is gently graded and meticulously maintained, so is a good candidate for shared use. The segment of the Herman Creek Trail included in the proposal is really just an old road, so can easily accommodate the additional traffic and mix of bikes and hikers.

The eastern trail proposal would be anchored by the Herman Creek and Wyeth Campgrounds. While a plus for cyclists looking for a camping/cycling experience, this underscores the need for a direct trail connection from Herman Creek to Cascade Locks, and the potential economic benefit it would bring, including bike campers riding to town for a meal, beer or supplies.

Rustic bridge along Trail 400 at Gorton Creek

The Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) restoration project is considering adding the Herman Creek to Wyeth roadway to the historic highway corridor, a move that would provide a terrific complement to the mountain bike trail concept. Already, this road provides excellent opportunities for small trailheads accessing the proposed system, allowing for more route possibilities for cyclists and shuttles.

One missed opportunity in the eastern part of the proposal that could be both bold and iconic would be repurposing the Forest Service work center at Herman Creek to function as a trailhead base for cyclists. This historic structure dates back to the Civilian Conservation Corps era, but has been relegated to administrative uses by the Forest Service. The CLIMB proposal could turn this structure into a flagship facility for cyclists, possibility with a public-private lodge function patterned after the lodges at Timberline and Multnomah Falls.

Historic work center at Herman Creek

The old work center also features a nearly lost trail connection that switchbacks directly to the Herman Creek Campground (and shown on the CLIMB trail concept), providing a nice complement for cyclists camping in the area if the work center were to become some sort of base facility.

Thinking bit further outside the box, another opportunity could be to add the old quarry site at nearby Government Cove to the proposed trail network.

View from the beach at the Government Cove site

The quarry is on a peninsula that separates the Columbia River from the cove, and has the potential to be a terrific riding destination, especially for riders following street routes from Cascade Locks to the Herman Creek trailhead. It would also bring the CLIMB network to the river, which is currently a missing piece in the proposal. The property appears to be port-owned, so could be a natural fit, given the port’s role in advocating for the project.

Project Timeline

Since the project began in 2007, a feasibility study, conceptual trail plan and master trail plan have already been completed with funding support from the Port of Cascade Locks, City of Cascade Locks, and Hood River County.

The next step is to conduct an environmental review of the trail corridor. In late 2010, the Port of Cascade Locks reached an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to perform the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis of the proposal using private consultants, since the Forest Service lacked the capacity to do this work in the near future. Several proposals to complete the work were received earlier this year, but at a cost of $170,000 to almost $400,000, were financially out of reach for the Port of Cascade Locks.

The Port and the USFS have since worked out a tentative agreement to allow this project to continue to move forward using limited Port funding to begin gathering environmental data, with the Forest Service taking over the environmental analysis in 2013, using this data.

Learn More & How to Help

For more information on the proposal, including more detailed maps, visit to the Port of Cascade Locks site here. You can also view photos of the proposed trail routes and promote the idea using the project’s Facebook link. Someday, we may have a world-class mountain bike network defining the economy in Cascade Locks, who knows?

But in the meantime, the best way to keep casinos and Nestle trucks from tainting the Gorge is to vote with your wallet, and simply to support local businesses in the Gorge that rely on tourism. If you traditionally stop somewhere in the Portland area for a beer or burger after a hike or trail ride, consider a stop in Cascade Locks, Stevenson or Hood River, instead.


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