WyEast Blog: First Year Reflections

Mount Hood on a magical afternoon above McNeil Point last August, one of my photo-trek highlights of the year

November marks the one-year anniversary of the WyEast Blog, so I will indulge with a few reflections on the blog and how I intend to carry it forward as part of the larger Mount Hood National Park Campaign.

The unifying theme is the national park campaign, and blog has, indeed, had a significant impact on traffic at the main website (which was also revamped in late 2008, in tandem with the start-up of the blog). This was the primary objective in starting the blog, so I’m pleased with the response thus far.

For the first several months, I didn’t advertise the blog at all — but it slowly picked up readers as the scope of articles became evident. From the beginning, the blog was designed in a magazine format, with lots of images and topics ranging from science, history and recreation to politics and commentary.

By mid-year, the site was logging about 200 views per month, but in July I posted a link to the site from my PortlandHikers.org signature, and the resulting boost in traffic is evident (see chart, above). The blog has been recording more than 300 views per month since. I was a bit anxious about taking this step, since I have been fairly low-key about the Mount Hood National Park project in my work with Portland Hikers, but the response has been very positive.

I had planned to write 3-4 articles per month when I started the blog, and have settled closer to three per month, with a total of 34 articles published since the first post. One surprise has been the response to individual articles. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the topics that are interesting to others (all of them are interesting to me, naturally!), though the most popular topics are an encouraging mix of natural and cultural history topics and more challenging policy critiques that I didn’t expect to resonate with readers.

The top article on the list was the Parkdale Lava Flow piece, and I admit, this comes as a bit of a surprise. As a geoscientist by training, the lava flow is of great interest to me, but I’m excited to find that others are equally intrigued by this little-known spectacle. That bodes well for its protection, and perhaps even improved public access for adventuresome visitors.

The many visits to the two-part article on the Boundary Clear Cut were also a pleasant surprise, and underscore the ongoing interest in federal forest policy — the Fire Forests of the Cascades article also ranked well in views, for example.

The article that drew the most commentary was a bold call to decommission The Dalles Dam and restore Celilo Falls. The contributors were particularly thoughtful and articulate in sharing their own ideas for realizing this vision, and they reaffirmed my own belief that big ideas are a necessary avenue to achieving environmental reforms and building public consensus for change (and thus the Mount Hood National Park Campaign).

Things to Come

In the coming year, I will continue to publish topical articles related to Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge, and have at least 50 topics in various states of research and development. My early concern that I would somehow run out of new and interesting topics is no longer, as each article I’ve written has spawned a couple others.

I will also be spotlighting some of the Mount Hood National Park concepts a bit more in the coming year, in the spirit of getting those “big ideas” out there, and stimulating an outside-the-box look at an area we all love and want to protect and restore.

Thanks to all for reading the blog over the past year — thanks for putting up with my periodic typos and run-on sentences, and thanks for the personal comments and encouragement along the way. I’ll do my best to continue to improve the site in the years to come!

Tom Kloster
WyEast Blog

Proposal: Gorton Creek Accessible Trail

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Emerald Falls on the proposed Gorton Creek Accessible Trail

The Mount Hood National Park Campaign proposes a major expansion of the trail system in the Columbia Gorge and around Mount Hood, including more opportunities for elderly, disabled and young families to experience nature. After all, hiking is the most basic form of active recreation, and should be available to all of us — especially as our region continues to grow and urbanize.

Proposed Gorton Creek Accessible Trail

Accessible trails are designed to provide access for everyone, and these facilities will be in growing demand as our country continues to age. By 2030, nearly a third of our population will be over the age of 55, and accessible trails will be in demand as never before.

In the spirit of providing accessible trails, this proposed new trail at Gorton Creek would allow for easy access to streamside vistas and photogenic Emerald Falls. This section of trail would bring visitors through a lush forest of Douglas fir, bigleaf maple and red alder.

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Autumn on Gorton Creek as viewed from the proposed location of an accessible viewpoint

Gorton Creek becomes increasingly prominent as the trail draws near the stream and the sound of rushing water fills the air. Just below the proposed viewpoint of Emerald Falls and rushing Gorton Creek, there is a large gravel beach at a bend in the stream that could even provide the potential for universal access to the stream, itself — a first in the region.

The accessible portion of the new trail would largely follow an existing boot path that, in turn, follows a very old roadbed still shown on USGS maps. Thus, the gentle grade that would meet accessible trail design requirements. The dashed yellow line on the map, below, shows where the roadbed segment could be improved to provide universal access to a streamside overlook just below Emerald Falls.

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Proposed Gorton Creek Family Trail

Family trails are designed to allow young children on foot, in backpacks or in strollers to have their first nature experience, and hopefully begin a lifetime of active recreation in nature.

The second part of the proposed Gorton Creek Trail would be designed for young families, with a short, easy grade leading to a viewing platform below Gorton Creek Falls. The falls is a towering 120 foot plunge set against a magnificent wall of columnar basalt, and would provide an exciting destination for budding young hikers. This section of proposed trail is shown in red on the map, above.

The family trail portion of this project would a couple of important objectives. First, it would provide a new hiking option for families with beginning hikers, with easy access from Portland and the potential to camp at Wyeth Campground as part of the adventure. Such trails are in surprisingly short supply in the Gorge, and therefore often crowded when families are most likely to visit, depriving them of a quality nature experience.

Second, this segment of the trail would combine with the lower, accessible segment to allow for extended family outings — grandparents enjoying the lower streamside viewpoint as young children and parents hike the short family spur to the main falls viewpoint, for example, with the extended family camping or picnicking at the Wyeth Campground.

Gorton Creek Restoration

While this proposal would meet growing needs for accessible trails in the region, it would remedy an escalating problem at Gorton Creek: the secret is out on Gorton Creek Falls, and waterfall enthusiasts are wreaking havoc on the trail-less canyon section above Emerald Falls as they scramble to reach the main falls, upstream. The damage to the canyon slopes (see photos, below) and stream bed is particularly worrisome given the important role the stream has as fish habitat.

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Gorton Creek Falls is no longer a well-kept secret. Each summer, more visitors are pushing cross-country through the upper canyon, leaving damaged slopes and trampled vegetation in their wake

Finally, trail construction could also allow for the washed-out waterworks at Emerald Falls (see photo, below) to be permanently relocated within the trail corridor, and less prone to the periodic failures that plague the current streamside alignment. The water pipeline is currently in a precarious condition, and would greatly benefit from a trail project happening in this canyon sooner than later.

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The washed out water supply line for Wyeth Campground hangs from cables anchored to stakes below Emerald Falls

To visit Gorton Creek, drive east of Cascade Locks to the Wyeth exit, turn right, then turn right again on the old highway that parallels I-84. Watch for the Wyeth Campground on the left, just before a bridge over Gorton Creek. If the campground gate is closed, park to the side, and walk through the campground to the well-marked trailhead at the south end — otherwise, you can drive to the trailhead.

To reach Emerald Falls, follow the formal trail 0.1 miles to a junction with Trail No. 400, where it crosses Gorton Creek on an impressive footbridge that kids will want to explore. Continue straight, past the bridge and Trail 400, following the obvious footpath up the east side of the stream canyon for another 0.4 miles. Watch your step around Emerald Falls, as the water works erosion has left abrupt holes and weakened stream banks. Do the canyon a favor, and don’t scramble upstream to Gorton Creek — wait for a trail to be built, instead!

(Editors Note: Trail No. 408 already carries the name “Gorton Creek Trail”, but never comes close to the creek, traversing high above the canyon rim on the shoulder of Nick Eaton Ridge. This trail eventually climbs to the summit of Green Point Mountain — and thus, might be better named the “Green Point Mountain Trail” should a new trail along Gorton Creek become a reality, if not before)

New Maps of Mount Hood and the Gorge

Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge were in fine company earlier this year when the National Geographic Society released a pair of new maps in their Trails Illustrated series covering both areas. This map series is generally limited to national parks, so the few outstanding areas outside the National Park System (NPS) included in the set read like a who’s who of places that should be made into national parks or recreation areas.

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For locals already familiar with these areas, the new maps feature surprisingly accurate, up-to-date information on trails, campgrounds, forest roads and — most impressively — the many new and expanded wilderness areas that were legislated this year with the new Mount Hood wilderness bill. This information, alone, makes them a worthy addition to your map collection.

As with any National Geographic map, the cartography is lush, and containes a wealth of details. One example are Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Oregon State Forest (OSF) lands that are helpfully mapped where they abut national forest boundaries. But most importantly, the new maps show numbered forest trails on a backdrop of contour lines an relief shading, making for an excellent trip planning tool or handy map for the field.

The Mount Hood map (No. 820) extends from Lost Lake south to the edge of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, and from Table Rock on the west to the Warm Springs reservation on the east. New, expanded boundaries for the Mount Hood, Badger Creek, Bull of the Woods and Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness Areas are shown, and are interesting to study for those who have only seen the new wilderness legislation on cryptic web maps.

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This detail of the Cloud Cap area includes a note about the washed-out Eliot Branch crossing on the Timberline Trail

The Mount Hood map also includes the newly created Clackamas and Roaring River wilderness areas, the new “Mount Hood National Recreation Area” (a new designation adjacent to Badger Creek Wilderness) and the various new additions to the Wild and Scenic River system. Map blurbs provide travel information, area history and surprisingly detailed specifics on each of the wilderness areas that will be valuable to visitors exploring the area.

The Columbia Gorge map (No. 821) extends from Troutdale east all the way to the Deschutes River, encompassing the entire Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The map also extends from Lost Lake on the south well into the Gifford Pinchot country north of the river, incorporating a good portion of the Indian Heaven Wilderness and all of the Silver Star Mountain backcountry.

Like the Mount Hood map, the Gorge map includes trail and travel information, map blurbs with travel information, area history, details on popular destinations within the Gorge and depicts the new wilderness boundaries resulting from the recent Mount Hood wilderness legislation.

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This except from the new Roaring River Wilderness shows the new boundaries in green, and the new Wild and Scenic River designation for the South Fork Roaring River

Both maps are printed on waterproof paper for use in the field, and measure approximately 4.25″ x 9.25″ folded, fitting neatly into a coat pocket or backpack. Both are at a scale of 1:75,000, which is a bit small for some hikers, but has the advantage of being a great travel planning map – or just a nice way to explore those new wilderness areas from the comfort of your traveling armchair. Each map retails for about $12 directly from National Geographic or from online book sellers.