Posted tagged ‘U.S. Forest Service’

Gorge Plan hits crucial stretch!

April 27, 2014
Columbia River Gorge from Chanticleer Point

Columbia River Gorge from Chanticleer Point

If you’ve been following the progress of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s (OPRD) new Gorge Recreation Plan, you may have commented during the earlier, fairly conceptual phases of the project. On April 24, the OPRD gave us the first real look at on-the-ground specifics with a first draft of the plan.

At first glance, the new plan has a lot to like, and it is crucial for trail advocates to weigh in to support this effort now! Why? Because hiking is being portrayed by a few land managers as “the problem” in the Gorge. Ironically, this is because the state and federal land agencies that manage the Gorge have failed to keep pace with the rapid growth in recreation demand over recent decades, and some trails have (predictably) suffered from overuse as a result.

Switchback on the Angels Rest Trail coming unraveled from overuse

Switchback on the Angels Rest Trail coming unraveled from overuse

Yes, trails like Angels Rest and Eagle Creek are wildly overcrowded during peak hiking periods, and they are most certainly showing the wear. But the answer isn’t to lock the public out of the Gorge! Instead, expanding opportunities with a few new trails and better ways to use existing routes is the realistic solution. But it will take the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks and Oregon Department of Transportation working together to make that happen. The draft Gorge Plan makes a big step in this direction, and it deserves our support.

What’s in the plan?

The 20-year update to the Gorge Recreation Plan was kicked off last fall with an assessment of existing recreational, cultural and natural resources currently found on State Park lands in the Gorge, and an inventory of natural or scenic features that should be protected from recreation-oriented improvements.

From this basic understanding of existing conditions, the State Parks staff has since assembled a detailed set of project proposals that attempt to fill in some of the facility gaps in the system. The overall vision is framed in a west-to-east schematic (sample shown below) that describes the assets currently found at each State Park in the Gorge, as well as proposals to enhance each of the parks.

Sample schematic from the draft Gorge Parks Plan

Sample schematic from the draft Gorge Parks Plan

Once you figure out how the schematic works, it’s an efficient way for ordinary citizens to really understand what is being proposed by the OPRD. You can download a PDF of the schematic on this OPRD web page and review it in detail. The final version of this document will guide park decisions for decades to come, so it’s very important to give OPRD your input now!

The draft plan includes major upgrades at seven park sites, including Chanticleer Point (Women’s Forum Park), Rooster Rock, Bridal Veil Falls, Ainsworth, Wyeth, Viento and West Mayer state parks. Each of these major upgrade proposals is described in poster format, as follows:

Sample major project page from the draft Gorge Parks Plan

Sample major project page from the draft Gorge Parks Plan

In each case, new trails, restrooms, bike/hike campsites and other major improvements that would enhance quiet recreation in the Gorge are proposed. There is a lot to like in these proposals, and the State Parks staff have not only put a lot of creative thought in assembling them, but have also been listening to recreation advocates seeking to make the state parks more reflective of current recreation demand — both in volume and variety. You can download a PDF of a detailed poster describing these proposals on this OPRD page.

The Trails

First, some exciting news: several trail concepts proposed on this blog have made it into the OPRD proposal for the Gorge! Special thanks go to readers who have weighed in with support for these proposals – your voice matters. Other trail concepts came from OPRD staff and the newly formed Gorge Recreation Coalition, a broad advocacy group consisting of several non-profit organizations focused on quiet recreation in the Gorge.

The following are highlights from the major trail proposals included in the draft plan, and all can be downloaded from this OPRD web page. This map key will help decipher existing versus proposed facilities:

04GorgePlanLegend

First up, the draft plan proposes a new trail following a fascinating old road grade from Rooster Rock to Chanticleer Point (Women’s Forum Park), perhaps the most photographed vantage point in the Columbia River Gorge.

Proposed Women's Forum (Chanticleer) Trail

Proposed Women’s Forum (Chanticleer) Trail

Including this trail is a nice step forward, but the concept should more fully embrace the historic nature of the old road. After all, this rustic old road pre-dates the historic highway, and was once how visitors accessed the former Chanticleer Inn (below) from a rail stop at the Rooster Rock Cannery. The Inn was one in a string of roadhouses that once defined tourism in the Columbia Gorge.

Chanticleer Inn circa 1920

Chanticleer Inn circa 1920

Therefore, this trail should be known as the “Chanticleer Grade Trail”, to keep this important history alive, with interpretive signage along the route designed to give hikers a sense of what the trip up the old road must have been like more than a century ago. Here’s a recent trip report that gives a sense of the potential for this trail.

Next up is a proposed trail connecting the Bridal Veil Falls trail to Angels Rest. The concept is a good one, to the extent that it might take some pressure off the heavily impacted Angels Rest trail. It also traverses public lands currently out of reach to most visitors. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have the direct benefit that [url=]the Angels Rest Loop[/url] proposal on this blog would have, and this option requires more trail to be constructed.

Proposed Bridal Veil to Angels Rest Trail

Proposed Bridal Veil to Angels Rest Trail

The Bridal Veil proposal also seems to leave out a couple of prime opportunities along Bridal Veil Creek, including the possibility of a Bridal Veil Canyon Trail described in this blog, and a universal access trailhead and trail located at the old Bridal Veil Mill site, just downstream from Bridal Veil Falls. The latter was proposed in the Gorge Coalition comments on the draft plan. Both trail improvements should be added to the draft plan.

Moving eastward, another important trail proposal in the draft plan would fill a gap in Trail 400, east of Ainsworth State Park. This missing link would allow for some long loop hikes for hikers seeing a challenge, and especially for campers staying at the Ainsworth campground (where a number of additional improvements are proposed).

Proposed Ainsworth Gap Trail

Proposed Ainsworth Gap Trail

Further to the east, the draft plan proposes to include the Viento Bluff Trails described in this blog. This would be a series of straightforward, easy-to-build connections that would create a network of family-friendly loops from the Viento Campground.

Proposed Viento Bluffs Trail

Proposed Viento Bluffs Trail

The “existing trails” shown in the Viento area on the draft map are a bit confusing, as some of the trails don’t actually seem to exist, but the general idea for the area is captured, and this ought to be a high priority for OPRD. The easy access and proximity of Viento State Park to the Portland area also make these proposed trails prime candidates for volunteer labor.

Finally, the new trail proposals include yet another concept from this blog, the Mitchell Point Loop Trail. While the eastern loop from the blog version is dropped from the State Parks proposal, the western loop is retained, and this would be a dramatic enhancement to existing the Mitchell Point trail.

Proposed Mitchell Point Loop

Proposed Mitchell Point Loop

This new trail should also be a priority for construction as a viable alternative to the Angels Rest Trail. Though a longer drive from Portland, the views are equally spectacular, and the scenery more rugged. The west loop would also add a series of Oregon oak-covered bluffs to the experience, a unique alterative to the Angels Rest experience.

What’s missing from the Mitchell Point proposal? Notably, a future for the nearby Wygant and Chetwoot trails, routes that are rapidly disappearing from lack of maintenance and some rough treatment by BPA crews. A portion of the Wygant Trail shows up on the Mitchell Point map, so at least the draft plan is not proposing to formally abandon this route, but it does deserve to be called out for restoration.

You can review all of the proposed trail enhancements in PDF form on this page on the OPRD website.

How to be Heard

Oregon State Parks staff will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, April 30 at the Corbett Fire Station. Despite the short notice and distant location for most Portlanders, it’s important to weigh in. If you can’t make it to the open house, then be sure to weigh in via the Gorge Parks Plan project website. The website is set up in blog format, so simply scroll down to comment at the bottom. The OPRD staff has thus far proven to be interested and responsive to public feedback on the Gorge Parks Plan, so your comments will be considered in a meaningful way.

The OPRD goal for the third set of public meetings is to roll out their draft Gorge Plan proposals and hear public input, especially on the prioritization of the proposed park improvements.

January Gorge Parks Plan meeting in Cascade Locks

January Gorge Parks Plan meeting in Cascade Locks

State Parks staff have posed the following questions for the public to consider:

1. Of the improvements proposed, what do you see as priorities?

2. If you could see only one of the proposed improvements implemented, which would it be?

3. Are there proposed improvements that you think should wait?

4. Is there anything you would like to see that hasn’t been captured in the proposals?

Thus far, the OPRD meetings have been lightly attended, but those who have taken the time to weigh in have been heard. It’s worth your time, and this is a rare opportunity to shape the future of recreation in the Gorge. Remember, this is a 20-year planning window, and the new Gorge Parks Plan will set the stage for how parks are manage for decades to come.

Please consider taking the time to weigh in!

The Boot Loop: Bringing Transit to Mount Hood

August 6, 2012

There is a surprisingly long, sometimes strange history in the effort to bring public transportation to Mount Hood. Private ski buses have carried winter visitors to the mountain almost since the beginning of the south side resorts. Before that, visitors to Cloud Cap journeyed by train, then stage, to reach the mountain at the turn of the 20th Century.

Perhaps the strangest episode was the brief reign of the Skiway to Timberline, an ungainly gondola scheme consisting of a customized bus suspended on a cable lift. The Skiway carried skiers from Government Camp to Timberline Lodge in just 10 minutes, with two modified coaches called “Cloudliners” custom-designed for the circuit.

Was the Skiway to Timberline ahead of its time?

The system cost a hefty $2 million when it was completed in 1951, but only operated until 1956 due to chronic mechanical problems and disappointing interest from skiers. Though it seems absurd now, the operators actually filed for permits to extend the Skiway to the summit of Mount Hood, then down the north face to Cloud Cap before the entire enterprise stalled.

Today, a ski trail carrying the name is the only reminder of the Skiway. The base terminal survives, but is nearly unrecognizable, having been converted into condominiums.The following newsreel captures the spirit if the Skiway in its early, more optimistic days:

In 1986 the first of Portland’s light rail lines opened, reaching out to the suburb of Gresham, 15 miles east of downtown. The system was an immediate hit with Portlanders, and soon there were enthusiastic calls for extending the tracks to Mount Hood. It was never to be, of course, simply because of the sheer cost of building a line on that scale (Government Camp lies 40 miles and nearly 4,000 vertical feet above Gresham) that would never draw enough passengers to justify the expense. Yet, it was conventional wisdom that some sort of public transportation to Mount Hood was needed.

Could transit to Mount Hood work?

During the recent economic downturn, the lack of a transit option has been still more glaring, with gas prices topping $4 per gallon, and an increasing number of Portlanders simply opting out of owning an automobile. For many skiers, hikers and mountain bikers, this once again raises the question: why isn’t there public transit to Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge?

The simple answer is that none of the public agencies with jurisdiction for the area is even considering the option. The Forest Service has placed a few conditions on ski resorts to provide limited transit, but otherwise is silent on public transportation.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has the authority to step up, and even commissioned a 1999 feasibility study for the US 26 corridor. But instead of exploring the recommended transit options, ODOT has since focused its efforts on widening the highway in response to ski-weekend traffic bottlenecks, to the tune of nearly $50 million over the past 12 years. To date, only the National Park Service has embraced recreation transit, with bus and shuttle systems serving several national parks.

The National Park Service already provides transit service in several parks (NPS)

This leaves ridesharing as the only viable alternative to driving alone to the trailheads for skiers, hikers and cyclists. While many hikers take advantage of sponsored hikes and informal meet-ups to take advantage of this option, there is no organized rideshare system available to the public.

What would it take to provide meaningful transit to Mount Hood and the Gorge? This article attempts to answer the logistics of that question, and explores whether a system could actually designed with hikers and cyclists in mind. In this way, the proposal differs from past schemes in that it focuses on hikers and mountain bikers, not ski resorts.

Proposal: The Boot Loop!

Over the years, many people have asked me about transit to Mount Hood and the Gorge, perhaps because they know I’m a transportation planner by day. And while my professional background made this proposal easier to assemble, it goes without saying that this is simply a “what if” concept. It’s meant to show just one way in which transit on Mount Hood might work. In the end, transit is a complex balance between ridership and service levels, and only a thorough transit study can produce a real plan. Instead, think of this as a hiker’s plan for transit, hopefully to spur some discussion!

The proposed Boot Loop consists of three overlapping bus transit lines:

Mount Hood Line (orange) – seasonal route serving the Mount Hood Loop on weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June through October

Hood River Line (yellow) – year-round route serving the western Gorge on weekends (Friday-Sunday)

Cascade Locks Line (green) – year-round, all-week route serving the most popular trailheads in the Gorge

Here’s a map of the proposed system:

(click here for a very large, printable version of the map)

Here’s a closer look at how the schedules could work for these lines (these are clips from the Boot Loop map, shown above). All lines begin at the Gateway Transit Center, the nexus of three light rail lines on the MAX system and home to a large park-and-ride structure.

Hikers already use Gateway as an informal meet-up site for ridesharing, so it’s a natural location for the Boot Loop. The proposed service starts on the hour, beginning with an early departure of the Mount Hood line at 6 AM and the Gorge lines beginning at 7 AM.

Morning transit service on the Boot Loop

(click here to enlarge)

A total of eight buses would depart in the morning on full service, summer weekends: three for Mount Hood, three for Cascade Locks and two for Hood River. All three lines would have additional park-and-ride stops, with the Mount Hood Line stopping at the Gresham Transit Center, Sandy City Hall and Hood River, and both Gorge lines stopping at a new park-and-ride at the Sandy Delta interchange (and trailhead).

By design, the Gorge lines have several overlapping stops, with the weekend service provided by the longer Hood River line helping carry extra demand for the most popular western Gorge trailheads.

Evening transit service on the Boot Loop

(click here to enlarge)

Some Gorge stops would only have morning service, due to westbound freeway access constraints. These include the Eagle Creek, Herman Creek, Starvation Creek and Mitchell Point trailheads. With the exception of Mitchell Point, all have trail access to nearby trailheads that would have PM service, so this would mostly require some advance trip planning for hikers. If the completion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail stays on schedule, Mitchell Point will soon have trail access to a nearby trailhead (Viento), as well.

A closer look at the proposed bus schedule reveals another benefit of overlapping service: in summer, the Mount Hood Line returning through the Gorge provides additional mid-day and evening return options, giving hikers a lot of flexibility in planning their day.

For accuracy, I clocked travel times for all three routes, including dwell time for unloading passengers, gear and bikes, so these are pretty close to what you could expect from this proposal. How fast would the ride be? Some of the more popular destinations, as measured in travel time from Gateway:

These times are competitive with driving, and if the service seems surprisingly fast, that’s because there are few stops on any of the proposed lines compared to urban transit systems.

Transit Stops for Hikers

One of the unique considerations for recreation transit is providing shelter at the trailheads. While urban systems might be able to get by with a metal sign tacked to a phone pole, hikers would need more protection from the elements, especially if they arrive early for a return trip home.

The National Park Service sets the standard for transit shelters, with substantial, rustic designs in its major parks. Similar designs would make sense for the most popular trailheads like Angels Rest, Horsetail Falls or Mirror Lake.

National Park Service example of a more substantial transit shelter (NPS)

For less busy trailheads, a simpler design could work, though the purpose of the structure is as much psychological as practical: it protects you from the elements, while also reassuring you that the bus will stop when it comes by.

Some examples of more modest structures follow:

Rustic rural transit shelter in Great Britain (Wikipedia)

Simple covered picnic table that could serve as a basic trailhead transit shelter (Wikipedia)

One reason urban transit providers avoid shelters is the cost of maintaining them, given the sheer number of stops in an urban setting (TriMet maintains more than a thousand shelters). But in a recreation setting, the shelters serve anyone using a trailhead, which opens up a number of options for building and maintaining these facilities as multi-purpose shelters and interpretive stops.

What about the buses?

One of the persistent complaints about bus transit is simply the “closeness” factor, something modern urban buses have addressed in recent years with greatly improved ventilation and climate controls. Modern excursion coaches are even better, and the vehicles used in the Boot Loop would be like these vehicles — with coach seats, onboard restrooms and large cargo areas for bikes and packs. The tradeoff is seating capacity, with excursion buses generally carrying from 44 to 52 passengers.

All-electric urban transit vehicles are becoming affordable (Wikipedia)

Buses also don’t have to be loud and polluting, anymore. Around the world, transit providers are increasingly looking at alternatives to diesel buses, with Asia boldly leading the way. China used a fleet of 50 all-electric buses in the 2008 Olympics, bringing the technology into the forefront. Metropolitan Seoul, Korea now runs an all-electric fleet, and many other urban transit providers are moving toward electric vehicles.

All-electric excursion buses providing park transit in China (Wikipedia)

Current battery technology has extended the range of electric buses to almost 200 miles on a charge, easily meeting the requirements for the Boot Loop between charges. These vehicles are currently more expensive than diesel, but prices are coming down, and they have the advantage of zero emissions and much quieter operation — big advantages when operating in a natural environment.

What would it take?

So, what would it take to bring transit to Mount Hood? For starters, an understanding that no transit system pays for itself with fares, alone. Just as automobiles pay for a fraction of the roads they require, transit typically recovers about a third of the operating expense with fares. With that assumption as a starting point, you can scale the total system accordingly, based on a rough estimate of fares.

Let’s do the math: at peak operations, with eight buses carrying a full load of 44 passengers (based on the proposed schedule), the system could draw about 700 one-way fares on a summer weekend. If you figure about $10 for a one-way ticket (or $20 round trip per hiker), that would generate $7,000 toward the 36 total hours of bus operation per day needed to run the Boot Loop, or nearly $200 per operating hour.

With most urban transit systems running operating costs of less than $100 per hour, this rough calculation seems to leave a lot of room for less-than-full buses and the other expenses of running a system, assuming an operating subsidy similar to what urban transit receives.

Parking capacity is a major problem at many trailheads; transit could help reduce demand

Electric buses cost upwards of $500,000, and the Boot Loop would require eight (including a spare). Likewise, the system would require 30 new transit stops, some with sizable shelters. Thus, the front-end capital price tag to start up the system I’ve described here would easily be in the range of $5-7 million. This startup number sounds big, but in transportation dollars, it’s well within the realm of the possible.

But the real commitment in providing transit comes in the ongoing support for operations. That’s where a useful model comes from Timberline Lodge, another venture for the public good that requires ongoing public dollars and private support to exist.

The lodge is managed by a triad consisting of the U.S. Forest Service (which owns the lodge on behalf of the public), the RLK Company (which operates the lodge and ski resort), and the Friends of Timberline, a non-profit that advocates for the preservation of the structure. Together, these partners ensure that the public enjoys the successful operation of Timberline Lodge as a public/private endeavor as no single partner could.

Sleeping is the best way to travel (Wikimedia)

A similar model could work for the Boot Loop, with the Forest Service providing trailhead bus stop improvements, ODOT providing operating funds and vehicles, and a transit provider actually operating the system. TriMet could certainly operate it, but it could also fall to the City of Sandy’s SAM system to operate, or even a private operator. They key is an understanding by the partners that all three have a stake in providing successful transit — and this is where the Forest Service and ODOT still fall short.

Another core premise behind this proposal is that hikers and bikers may be more motivated to use transit than the public at large, for reasons ranging from personal ethics (a more sustainable way to travel), convenience (relax or even sleep to and from the trailhead) to simple economics (cheaper than driving, and no car at the trailhead to get looted). Is this premise true? There’s no way to answer that question, short of a thorough market study, but this article is intended to help the conversation along.

Transit does finally seem like the right solution at the right time for Mount Hood and the Gorge. If the demand is there, are ODOT and the Forest Service ready to step up? We’ll see.

Let’s Fix the Cooper Spur Trail

September 27, 2011

The first hiking trails on Mount Hood were built in the late 1890s, radiating from the newly constructed Cloud Cap Inn on the mountain’s north side. The steep hike up the south Eliot Glacier moraine to Cooper Spur was perhaps the first trail, as it was part of the still-popular Cooper Spur route to the summit. The original climber’s trail is still used, though a much gentler route built in the 1960s now ascends the spur in a series of well-graded switchbacks.

The new, graded trail carries thousands of hikers to the top of Cooper Spur each summer. It is among the most spectacular alpine hikes in the country, with jaw-dropping views of the sheer north face of Mount Hood and a close-up look at the massive jumble of flowing ice that makes up the Eliot Glacier.

The snowfields in question on Cooper Spur are permanent enough to be mapped.

It’s hard to know exactly why the newer, graded trail was routed over a set of mostly permanent snowfields when it was built, but this design flaw continues to be a problem for this otherwise exceptional trail. The newer trail initially follows the climber’s route fairly closely, sticking to the rim of the Eliot Glacier where the snow melts early and reliably each summer.

But near the crest of Cooper Spur, the newer route suddenly crosses the face of the spur, traversing to the south shoulder and overlooking the Newton Clark Glacier. It is in this section where the route crosses a set of persistent snowfields that are nearly permanent in all but the driest years.

The snowfields clearly show up in this 1890s view of Mount Hood in late summer.

This flaw in the newer route is confusing and potentially dangerous to the many hikers who venture to the top of the spur each summer. At 8,514 feet, the summit of Cooper Spur is truly alpine, so one of the benefits of the modern trail is to provide a relatively manageable hike to the top of the spur for the average visitor, despite the high elevation.

But when the trail disappears into the snow in this final pitch, hikers often resort to climbing directly up the snowfield — a dangerous choice — or scrambling up the steep climber’s trail, with its loose rock and cinders creating a potentially dangerous option for many hikers.

The snowfields as viewed from Cloud Cap Inn in the late 1890s.

The design flaw in the newer route may also have environmental impacts: the climber’s trail isn’t really a “trail”, but rather, a braided confusion of boot paths made less stable and more extensive each year as the popularity of the Cooper Spur hike continues to grow.

Early 1900s maps don’t show the snowfields, but they do show the climber’s trail on Cooper Spur.

While the ecological impact might seem inconsequential at this elevation, where few plants can even survive, the physical scars left on the rocky slopes are real and warrant better management of recreation travel in the area.

The high tundra landscape on the slopes of Mount Hood represents one of the most unusual and sensitive in the region, and a stray boot print can last for years. The ever-increasing variations on the climber’s trail that form each summer can take years to recover, even if given the chance.

The USGS 7.5 minute maps of the 1960s were the first to map the snowfields as permanent features. This 1962 map pre-dates the modern Cooper Spur Trail.

This article makes the case for addressing this problem in a couple of steps:

1. Realign the upper portion of the Cooper Spur Trail with a series of designed, graded switchbacks that roughly follow the climber’s trail, along the Eliot Glacier rim.

2. Decommission the problem sections that are usually snow-covered.

This proposal would not only corral the hiking hordes onto a more manageable, new path near the climber’s route, it would also leaves the bulk of the east slope of Cooper Spur untouched by hikers by decommissioning the old trail. This could greatly reduce the impact of the trail on the alpine ecosystem that exists on the slopes of Cooper Spur.

[Click here for a larger version of this map]

One of the most attractive aspects of this proposal is that it would be so easy to build. Building trails at this elevation, with the absence of soils and vegetation, is straightforward and very simple. The new route would simply need to be designed and surveyed, with construction done by volunteers or youth crews like the Northwest Youth Corps.

Looking up the climber’s trail to Cooper Spur and Mount Hood.

Trail construction would consists of rolling loose boulders and rocks to form a trail bench, and smoothing the surface of the new bench into a hiking tread with the abundant volcanic ash and glacial till that makes up most of the terrain at this elevation. This work is relatively easy, and surprisingly fast (I know this firsthand because I’ve adopted a couple of nearby trails in the area, and regularly rebuild worn trail segments in this high-elevation environment of rock and ice).

How to Help

If you’ve experienced the same frustration coping with the trail to Cooper Spur, your comments to the U.S. Forest Service can have an impact. This proposal represents a fairly simple effort, and there’s a good chance the Forest Service will respond if enough hikers weigh in on the hazards of the current trail alignment.

The best way to be heard is to go to the Mount Hood National Forest contact page and speak your mind — it’s easy, and you might just help get this trail fixed for generations to come!

Farewell to an Old Friend

December 10, 2010

The Bucher barn and Nesmith Point (2008)

For camera buffs, the century-old Bucher family dairy barn at the foot of St. Peters Dome in the Columbia River Gorge has been like an old friend. The huge, stately old structure could not have been more picturesque, with its bleached planks and rusty tin roof standing in dramatic contrast to the towering basalt walls of the Gorge.

Thus, it was to the great dismay of many when the barn came down this fall, and now is in the process of being salvaged.

The Bucher barn was located in the old Dodson district, a fading rural village that experienced its heyday in the 1930s, when the original Columbia River Highway was the premier travel route through the Gorge.

Until its recent collapse, the barn had survived to become the most prominent structure in the Dodson district in recent years, familiar to speeding traffic on I-84 (and plainly visible in the air photo, above).

The Bucher barn in happier days (2006)

The Bucher barn was tucked at the base of the towering cliffs and spires of Ainsworth State Park, with Yeon Mountain, Katanai Rock, St. Peters Dome and Rock of Ages filling the skyline. Nesmith Point is also prominent, and is the loftiest cliff in the Columbia Gorge, rising nearly 4,000 feet directly above the river.

The barn was located in an area that made headlines in the winter of 1996, when a series of dramatic debris flows roared down from the Gorge rim and burst across I-84, closing the freeway for five days and destroying nearby homes — but sparing the barn. (click here for a full account of the debris flows)

Beginning of the end in November 2010

In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Parks have been actively acquiring private land in proximity to the Bucher barn as part of implementing the long-term vision for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. According to the National Integrated Land System (NILS), these acquisitions may cover the Bucher barn parcel, which could explain the barn coming down, though I have not been able to verify this connection.

(Note: please see the postscript to this article for updated background on the ownership of the barn and decision to bring it down).

The fallen barn in November 2010

The current deconstruction of the Bucher barn was underway by mid-November of this year. The plank siding had been partially removed from the lower half of the structure by Thanksgiving, but the main building frame was still intact.

By late November, however, the building had been toppled, tipping forward toward the frontage road with the roof framing intact. Whether the collapse was intentional or from a structural failure is unclear, though the ongoing salvage operation suggests that it was dropped intentionally.

Almost gone in December 2010

A series of early winter storms gripped the Gorge in late November and early December of this year, but the salvage work continues, and by mid-December, half the roof frame of the Bucher barn has been removed, along with most of the metal roofing.

At the current rate of removal, the barn will likely be gone in a few weeks, taking a bit of Oregon history with it. Thankfully, it is one of the more photographed barns in the region, so will live on through images that captured its charm and unique setting.

Bucher barn salvage in December 2010

The sudden demise of the Bucher barn is a reminder that historic barns are fading away across the Oregon landscape, so hopefully others can be equally appreciated and documented while they are still standing.

If you are interested in seeing this rapidly disappearing bit of history, take the Ainsworth exit on I-84, then follow signs to the eastbound Frontage Road and John B. Yeon State Park. The barn is located one-quarter mile from the interchange, just beyond the first house. Please respect the private property signs, and stay outside the fenced pasture.

Postscript

In April 2011, Breanna Mohr, a member of the Bucher family, provided some additional family history on the Bucher barn. The building once belonged to her great-grandfather, Joseph Bucher, a dairy farmer in the Dodson area. When Joseph Bucher passed away, his farm was divided among his children, and the portion that included the barn was passed to his daughter. Breana Mohr goes on to say:

“Now to explain why it is being tern down. The barn has been falling down for many years now, and my aunt could not keep up with the work that it needed… So the family decided to tear it down. This has been a hard thing for my family because they all still remember it being full of milk cows, (my grandfather was the milk man in Dodson) and having to get up early in the morning to milk the cows.”

Breanna also pointed out that I didn’t include Katanai Rock in the original article. The name was new to me, but after a bit of research, I learned that this is the local name for the huge monolith immediately above the Bucher farm. I’ve taken a shot at identifying the various landmarks that make up the towering heights of Ainsworth State Park and the Dodson area, including Katanai Rock:

Click here for a large version of this photo

Though all but the Katanai name are official and found on USGS maps, interpreting the jumble of contours on the map as they related to real features on the ground turns out to be more difficult than I’d imagined. Thus, I’d appreciate any corrections to this schematic that local residents or area explorers have to offer.

Finally, I’d like to thank Breanna Mohr and the Bucher family for not only providing historical background on the area, but also for keeping this fine old structure standing for so long. While it shall be missed by all of us, it was enjoyed for decades for its picturesque charm, and lives on in our memories, as well!

Proposal: Mark O. Hatfield Memorial Trail

June 20, 2010

Senator Mark O. Hatfield campaigning in 1967

One of the legacies of former Oregon Senator Mark O. Hatfield was expansion of the state’s wilderness system in 1978 and 1984, the largest expansion before or since that time. Though Hatfield was harshly criticized by conservationists for also sponsoring pro-logging legislation that led to the destruction of ancient forests, his role in creating new wilderness in Oregon remains a singular achievement that no other senator has yet matched.

To honor the senator, Congress renamed one of these new wilderness areas, the former Columbia Wilderness, as the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in 1996. This recognition marked the senator’s retirement from Congress after nearly a half century of public service that included serving as an Oregon legislator, Oregon’s Secretary of State, then Governor, before finally being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1967, where he served for 30 years

Senator Hatfield with wife Antoinette in 2008 (Willamette University)

The recognition also triggered another round of critiques by conservationists over Hatfield’s environmental legacy. But for many, it was also a fitting tribute to the senator who had pushed the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Act through Congress in the 1980s when it would have been easy for the Oregon Republican to simply leave the task to his Democratic counterparts.

Hatfield’s long service, and his independent stance on a number of topics, forced him to break ranks with the Republican Party on a number of progressive issues. These ranged from successfully sponsoring Oregon’s landmark civil rights legislation in 1954 (a full decade ahead of the U.S. Civil Rights Act) to his early opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam conflict, and later, the Gulf War.

His independence and principled “sanctity of life” stance that led him to champion civil rights for minorities and gays, while opposing wars, the death penalty and abortion later earned him his own chapter in Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation”.

Multnomah Creek along the proposed Hatfield Trail

Though his environmental legacy is a conflicted one, Hatfield’s landmark environmental protections in Oregon still exceed that of his fellow Democrats, who claim the natural constituency of environmentalists, but have seldom acted with such determination and vision.

The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness originally spanned the most remote high country on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, but in 2009, President Obama signed a new wilderness bill into law that expanded the Hatfield wilderness significantly. The new boundary stretches the Hatfield Wilderness from Larch Mountain and Multnomah Creek on the west to the steep ridges and canyons of Mount Defiance, on the east.

The Concept

This Mark O. Hatfield Trail proposal is for a 60-mile memorial trail that spans the Hatfield Wilderness, beginning at Multnomah Falls and culminating at Starvation Creek Falls, passing through the most rugged, lonely country to be found in the Columbia River Gorge along the way. This new trail would join classic hikes like the Timberline Trail at Mount Hood and the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier as premier backpacking destinations of national prominence.

(click here to view a larger map)

The new trail would largely be assembled from existing routes, but with a notable exception: a new, five-mile segment would curve just inside the Bull Run Reserve, along the headwaters of Eagle Creek. The new segment would bring hikers to little known Eagle Butte and rare views into the Eagle Creek backcountry that few have seen before.

Though this new trail segment would not physically enter the Bull Run watershed, it would nonetheless pass inside the reserve boundary. This would require special approval by the U.S. Forest Service, similar to that given the Pacific Crest Trail, where it crosses along the edge of Bull Run. Simply raising the issue might even challenge the absurd notion that trails and hikers present a risk to the watershed – a separate topic for another column!

Rugged Tanner Butte in the Hatfield Wilderness

Along the route, there are also many trails that would be “saved” by this proposal – routes that have been badly neglected for decades, but deserve to be maintained. In some spots, short realignments would be needed to improve old or confusing sections. In the area of Starvation Creek, for example, a redesigned trail along the final stretch near I-84 is needed to improve on the current, rather jarring re-entry into civilization.

The Trail

The 60-mile route is designed as a six-day trek, beginning at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, then leaving civilization behind for most of the next six days as the route traverses through the rugged high country of the Hatfield Wilderness.

The following trip log shows the most prominent landmarks along the trail, with proposed camp spots for five nights on the trail. The up-and-down elevation changes inherent to the Hatfield Wilderness terrain will make this a challenging trek for any hiker. Segment and cumulative mileage is shown, along with net elevation gains and losses:

Day 1 to Bell Creek: the 60-mile trek would begin along the very popular Larch Mountain Trail, following Multnomah Creek beyond the reach of the throngs at Multnomah Falls, then climbing to historic Sherrard Point on Larch Mountain, another popular tourist destination. From here, the trail leaves the tourists behind, dropping into ancient forests along Bell Creek and the first campsite at 10.5 miles.

Day 2 to Dublin Lake: this is the most strenuous day along the circuit, covering 12.8 miles as the trail climbs over the shoulder of Nesmith Point, drops into Tanner Creek canyon, then climbs out again to arrive at Dublin Lake. At Nesmith Point, hikers can look down on the Columbia River nearly 4,000 feet below from the highest point on the Gorge rim, and on Van Ahn Rim hikers will get a rare look into the backcountry of the Tanner Creek canyon and into the Bull Run Reserve.

Indian Mountain with Eagle Butte in the distance

Day 3 to Table Lake: the third day of the proposed Hatfield Trail is a less challenging 9-mile hike along the high ridges of the Eagle Creek backcountry, allowing time for the spectacular side trip to Tanner Butte, along the way. The new trail segment begins north of Tanner Butte, and traverses across the rugged talus slopes and mountain tarns of Eagle Butte and Table Mountain, with expansive views into the Eagle Creek canyon, 3,000 feet below. The campsite for this proposed new segment is inside the Bull Run Reserve, at little-known Table Lake. Though the trail is inside the Bull Run boundary, the entirely of the trail is within the upper reaches of the Eagle Creek drainage, and is outside the physical watershed of the Bull Run.

Day 4 to Herman Creek: on the fourth day, the route joins the Pacific Crest Trail and passes high over the shoulder of Indian Mountain, then drops to popular Wahtum Lake. The lake provides a midpoint trailhead access for those looking for a shorter trip, an alternative camping spot or possibly a feed drop for those planning stock trips along the trail. From Wahtum Lake, the trail climbs over Anthill Ridge, then descends past Mud Lake before reaching a campsite at Herman Creek at the 12.6 miles.

Wahtum Lake from Anthill Ridge along the proposed Hatfield Trail

Day 5 to Warren Lake: this is also a less demanding day, with most of the climbing in the first few miles, as the route climbs out of the Herman Creek canyon, and passes the rocky summit of Green Point Mountain, with expansive views of the surrounding wilderness. From here, the route passes above Rainy, North and Bear lakes before curving around the rocky north face of Mount Defiance, then dropping to beautiful Warren Lake at 9.5 miles.

While the recommended circuit includes a night at Warren Lake to enjoy the exceptionally rugged setting and wilderness scenery, the relatively short, final leg to Starvation Creek will draw many hikers to make this a 5-day trip, and skip the final campsite at Warren Lake. For these hikers, the lake might simply offer the opportunity for a quick swim before heading back to civilization.

Bear Lake and Mount Defiance along the proposed Hatfield Trail

Day 6 to Starvation Creek: the short, 5.6 mile final leg travels steeply down the north slope of Mount Defiance along Starvation Ridge, dropping 3,600 feet in just over five miles. Along the way, the trail passes above dizzying cliff-top viewpoints and shady side-canyon waterfalls before reaching the Columbia River and the end of the trail at Starvation Creek.

The restrooms, telephone, easy highway access and shady, un-crowded streamside picnic sites below lofty Starvation Creek Falls make this an ideal terminus for hikers seeking to relax after their adventure.

The following table summarizes the recommended 6-day hike, with running mileage and daily elevation gains:

What would it take?

Much of the trail network described is exceptional in scenic value, but suffers from years of deferred maintenance and modernization. Since most of the route is already in place, the Mark O. Hatfield trail concept would mostly require a stepped up commitment to maintaining and improving existing routes.

This would include basic maintenance, like brushing out overgrown routes, tread repair and drainage, but would also new signage and log bridges across major streams, consistent with the Wilderness Act . This work could begin immediately, but will require funding, as the route is generally too remote and rugged to depend entirely on volunteer labor.

(Click here for a larger map of the new trail)

Constructing the new 5-mile segment proposed inside the Bull Run Reserve is the boldest element of this proposal, and a tall order for the federal bureaucracy. However, a simple interim plan is to route the new trail along the existing Eagle/Tanner (No. 433) and Indian Spring (No. 435) trails. These trails are shown in yellow on the map, above, and in green on the map showing the entire Hatfield Trail proposal.

This interim route would reduce the total hike distance by about two miles, and add about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. However, the interim option would allow for full implementation the Hatfield Trail concept in the near term, rather than waiting for the bureaucracy to address the watershed issue.

Columbia River from rugged Mount Defiance, near Warren Lake

(Click here for a large view of the panorama)

Another possibility for the long term is to finally complete the long-stalled Gorge Trail (No. 400) connection from Wyeth to Starvation Creek. This missing piece is a segment that would curve around the steep face of Shellrock Mountain (the focus of a future WyEast Blog article), creating a 30-mile trail connection from Multnomah Falls to Starvation Creek.

This connection would allow for a loop hike for hardy backpackers looking for a 90-mile backpack. However, because substantial portions of the existing Gorge Trail 400 are exposed to freeway noise and other reminders of civilization, the loop is not included in the Mark O. Hatfield Trail concept.

Why now?

This isn’t a difficult project to realize, and it would pay fitting tribute to begin work on this concept in time for Senator Hatfield to personally see the project begin – possibly even to participate in the ground breaking.

Accomplishing this project would be well-deserved recognition for the heavy lifting he did as our senator to protect the Columbia Gorge and Oregon’s wilderness for generations to come. The better question: why not now?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 137 other followers