Posted tagged ‘Multnomah Falls’

First Look at the Gorge Fire

September 12, 2017
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Eagle Creek Fire during the initial, explosive phase (US Forest Service)

Officially the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge is still fully involved, now at 35,000 acres and just 10 percent contained by firefighters. Rain in the forecast for the coming week suggests that the fire will continue to slow as October approaches, and our attention will turn toward the changes that fire has once again brought to the Gorge.

The Gorge is a second home for many of us, and in some ways the fire was akin to watching our “home” burn. But that’s a human perspective that we should resist over the long term if we care about the ecological health of the Gorge. Fire is as natural and necessary as the rain in this amazing place, though that’s a truth that we have been conditioned to resist. I’ll post more on that subject in a subsequent article.

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Surreal Gorge landscape under smoky skies from the Eagle Creek Fire (US Forest Service)

For now, we’re just beginning to learn about the impact of the fire, even as it continues to burn. Thankfully, no lives have been lost, no serious injuries reported and very few structures have been lost. That’s a testament to our brave emergency responders (many of them volunteers) and the willingness of most Gorge residents to abide by evacuation orders. It has surely been a frightening and stressful time for those who call the Gorge home.

The impact on public lands is still largely unknown, but the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge has one of the most concentrated, most heavily used trail systems in the world, and the damage to trails is likely to be significant. The Forest Service is likely to close affected trails for months or even years in order to assess the damage and determine how best to restore them.

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1930s hiker at a viewpoint along the Perdition Trail (with Multnomah Falls beyond)

If you’ve lived here for awhile, you’ll also recall that we lost the Perdition Trail, an iconic, prized connection between Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls, to the 1991 Multnomah Falls Fire. The reasons were complex, and it will tempting for the Forest Service to let some trails go, given their shrinking trail crews. We should not allow this to happen again.

Every trail should be restored or re-routed, and new trails are also needed to spread out the intense recreation in the Gorge. Trails advocates will need to work together to ensure this. Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) has set up a mailing list dedicated to Gorge trail restoration, if you’re interested in working on future volunteer projects. You can sign up for periodic updates and events here.

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On September 10, I drove SR 14 on the Washington side of the Gorge for my first look at the fire, starting in Hood River. Below each of the following annotated photos, I’ve linked to much larger versions that I encourage you to view if you’re reading this on a large monitor, as they provide a better sense of the fire’s impact.

As hoped, much of the burn is in a patchy “mosaic” pattern, a healthy and desirable outcome for the ecosystem. This is how fires used to occur in our forests, before a century of suppression began in the early 1900s. Mosaic burns allow for mixed forest stands and exceptional wildlife habitat to evolve, even as we might mourn the loss of familiar green forests.

The wind pattern on Sunday had shifted from westerly to a northwesterly direction, producing a bizarre effect: smoke from the fire hugged the vertical wall that is the Oregon side of the Gorge, while the Washington side was cleared of smoke and under a bright blue sky. The view, below, shows this split-screen effect from near Wind Mountain.

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(Click here for a large view)

Moving west, the combination of ongoing wildfire and back-burning by firefighters was producing a continuous plume along the base of the Oregon cliffs, from Herman Creek east to Shellrock Mountain, as seen below. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses this section, and is undoubtedly affected by the fire.

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(Click here for a large view)

From the Bridge of the Gods wayside, opposite Cascade Locks, the impact of the fire on the canyons that fan out from Benson Plateau is visible. Some areas (below) show a healthy mosaic burn, while some of the upper slopes show wider swaths of forest impacted. The alarming proximity of the fire to the town of Cascade Locks is also evident in the scorched trees visible just above the bridge in this view. This was a close call for those who live here.

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(Click here for a large view)

Turning further to the east from the Bridge of the Gods wayside (below), the ongoing wildfire and back-burning shown in the previous photos can be seen in the distance, beyond the town of Cascade Locks.

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(Click here for a large view)

The scene at the Bridge of the Gods bridgehead (below) is an ongoing reminder that we’re a long way from life returning to normal for Cascade Locks residents. For now, I-84 remains closed and this is the only route into town, and only open to those with proof of residency.

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(Click here for a large view)

Moving further west, the 2000-foot wall of cliffs in the St. Peters Dome area that stretches from McCord Creek to Horsetail Creek (below) come into view.

Here, the fire has also burned in mosaic pattern, with many patches of green forest surviving. But the frightening effects of the firestorm that occurred in the first days of the fire is also evident, with isolated trees on cliffs hundreds of feet above the valley floor ignited by the rolling waves of burning debris that were carried airborne in the strong winds that initially swept the fire through the Gorge.

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(Click here for a large view)

A second view (below) of the St. Peters Dome area shows the burn extending toward Nesmith Point, nearly 4,000 vertical feet above the Gorge floor.

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(Click here for a large view)

Moving west along SR 14 to the viewpoint at Cape Horn, the impact of the fire on areas west of Horsetail Falls comes into view (below), along with a better sense of the mosaic pattern of the burn. This view shows the Horsetail Creek trail to be affected by the first, as well as the slopes on both sides of Oneonta Gorge.

In this earlier piece on Oneonta Gorge, I described the dangerous combination of completely unmanaged visitor access and an increasingly dangerous logjam at the mouth of the Gorge. The fire will almost certainly trigger a steady stream of new logs rolling into Oneonta Gorge and adding to the massive logjam in coming years.

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(Click here for a large view)

Moving further west, the area surrounding iconic Multnomah Falls and Wahkeena Falls comes into view (below). As with other areas, the fire burned in vertical swaths along the Gorge face, leaving more mosaic patterns in the burned forest. From this view, trees along the popular 1-mile trail from Multnomah Falls Lodge to the top of the falls looks to be affected by the fire, as are forests above Wahkeena Falls.

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(Click here for a large view)

This wide view looking east from above Cape Horn (below) shows most of the western extent of the fire, with the north-facing slopes of Angels Rest heavily burned, while the west and south-facing slopes were less affected.

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(Click here for a large view)

A closer look at Angels Rest shows that the burned area in the current fire closely matches the area that burned in the 1991 (below), along with slopes on the opposite side of Coopey Falls. The Angels Rest Trail was heavily impacted by the 1991 fire, and will clearly need to be restored after this fire, as well.

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(Click here for a large view)

I’ve marked an approximation of the 1991 fire extent at Angels Rest in this closer look (below) at the summit of Angels Rest, based on tree size. Tall conifers burned in today’s Eagle Creek fire survived the 1991 fire, and mark the general margins of that earlier fire.

Areas within the 1991 burn were still recovering and consisted largely of broadleaf trees, like Bigleaf and Vine maple. Depending on the heat of the fire and whether their roots survived, these broadleaf trees may be quick to recover, sprouting from the base of their killed tops as early as next spring.

The recurring fires at Angels Rest offer an excellent case study for researchers working to understand how natural wildfires behave in successive waves over time. This, in turn, could help Gorge land managers and those living in the Gorge better plan for future fires.

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(Click here for a large view)

Finally, a look (below) at the western extent of the fire shows a few scorched areas in Bridal Veil State Park, including the forest around the Pillars of Hercules. Bridal Veil Canyon appears to have escaped the burn, though some trees near Bridal Veil Falls may have burned.

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(Click here for a large view)

I’ve titled this article as my “first look” because the story of the Eagle Creek fire is still being written. Only after the fall rains arrive in earnest will we have a full sense of the scale of the fire.

As new chapters in the Eagle Creek saga unfold, I’ll continue to post updates and share perspectives on this fire and our broader relationship with fire as part of the natural systems that govern our public lands. With each new fire in close proximity to Portland, we have the opportunity to expand and evolve how we think about fire, and hopefully how we manage our public lands in the future.

More to come…

Our Gorge: Their Summer Destination..!

August 19, 2012

Look! Behind you… it’s Multnomah Falls!

Thanks to being one of the country’s original motoring routes, countless automobile ads have been filmed along the Mount Hood Loop Highway over the years. Usually, our world-class scenery is little more than an un-credited extra in the casting, though always a welcome affirmation of the national park qualities of Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge!

But this summer, two new ads from Infiniti get more personal with the Gorge as “your summer destination”. True, it’s the luxury Infiniti G Sedan (and the affluent buyers they are courting) that the company has in mind, but like few ads before it, these 30-second spots use the Gorge setting as the main selling point. They’re fun to watch for local Gorge enthusiasts, especially some digital slight-of-hand for the sharp-eyed.

Cruising Waterfall Alley

The first ad opens with a stylish 30-something couple in a contemporary art gallery, admiring a metal sculpture. Behind them is a rather nice abstract painting of Multnomah Falls, featuring the Benson Bridge (was it created for the ad?).

After a brief daydream involving a cruise ship and spritely grandpa running by in a red Speedo, the couple turns toward the painting behind them and proclaims: “Let’s go on vacation there!”

Ah, now you see it! Nice painting, too…

Cut to a lovely summer view of Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge… and a car zipping across the pedestrians-only bridge…? Clearly, a driving maneuver made possible through the miracle of computer generated imagery (CGI), but fun to see for those who know the location!

Look out, pedestrians! Luxury sedan coming through..!

Before your eyes can zero in on the car atop Benson Bridge, the scene cuts to the same car coming across the similarly arched Shepperd’s Dell bridge. For the national audience watching this ad, the two bridges do appear to be the one and the same, adding to the fun for local Gorge aficionados who know better.

Aren’t you going to slow down for the waterfall..?

From Shepperd’s Dell, the sleek new Infiniti now passes in front of Horsetail Falls as the fine print appears: “Professional driver. Closed course. Do not attempt.” Good advice… especially if you still owe on your $37,000 luxury sedan!

Nope, not stopping at this falls, either…

Next, the ad cuts to a section of historic highway that appears to be just east of Shepperd’s Dell, with a verdant green forest canopy reflecting off the hood of the well-polished Inifiti. A squiggly “sharp turns” sign completes the scene and message: sure, it looks like a sedan, but it drives like a sports car!

That squiggly arrow means “go faster”, right..?

Then, another abrupt U-turn, and we complete the high-speed tour of Waterfall Alley with a spin around Crown Point. The colors and river level in the background show this scene to have been filmed in the peak of spring in May or early June, under overcast skies, as were the previous clips in the sequence.

Hey, you’re speeding past a world-class viewpoint..!

The exception is the opening Multnomah Falls shot — the only clip without an actual vehicle operating in it. This clip appears to have been filmed later, possibly mid-summer, and clearly under sunny conditions, too. Could this be a stock video clip with the CGI added?

Here’s the complete video of “your summer destination” in Waterfall Alley – enjoy the ride!


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Cruising Rowena Crest

One of these ads would be fun enough for local Gorge junkies to study, but a twin ad filmed in the eastern Gorge is equally intriguing. This commercial begins with a somewhat younger 30-something couple (the Infiniti G is apparently an “entry level” luxury model… hmm…) this time admiring a mysterious coffee table book in an upscale bookstore (is this a film set, or real location..?)

Definitely not Powell’s, but the book looks interesting…

Like the first couple, this pair daydreams of a tropical vacation (on Bora Bora), then comes to their senses when a coconut thumps the hood of their hyper-polished Infiniti sedan. Startled from their daydream, they take a look at the two-page spread in the huge art book before them and proclaim: “Let’s go here!”

…now the book looks REALLY interesting!

The colossal book looks like it must be a custom-made prop, but does have a caption running down the left side that describes driving this scenic route in Oregon — perhaps this is a real book?

If so, the camera crews went to extraordinary efforts to match the location for the first shot in first video sequence — or is it the other way around? If the book was created as a prop for the ad, the stills of this scene for the book were clearly shot later in the summer than the filming of the driving sequences, as evidenced by the summer colors along the freeway and Sevenmile Hill, in the background.

A couple of quick cuts in the opening sequence along the historic highway show off a lovely section of Samuel Lancaster’s beautiful old road, featuring the artful stonework and remarkable effort to blend with the landscape that continues to make the Historic Columbia River Highway a “summer destination” for visitors from around the world.

Ah… you might want to slow down on this curve…

…or not… glad there’s a “professional” at the wheel…

Next, the still spotless Infiniti sedan makes another time-travel maneuver, appearing on the Rowena Loops, just to the east of the opening clip. This is one of the most photographed sections of the old highway for the purpose of selling fast cars, so an expected clip in this ad.

Clearly, he saw another squiggly arrow sign…

The next clip is back in geographic sequence, picking up the sedan as it passes another terrific Lancaster design feature: the graceful roadside viewpoint just below Rowena Crest. Though a bit sketchy for pulling off (especially with professional Infiniti drivers speeding by), this little overlook is one of the lovelier details along the historic highway.

Wait! Another view… point… eh… never mind.

The second ad ends up with another leap to the east, near Rowena, proper, just below the loops. The amazingly bug and dust free Inifiti zooms past a nice section of restored wooden historic highway guardrail before the commercial fades to text.

The shiniest car to ever visit Rowena?

Here’s the complete video for the second ad – another fun 30-second ride!


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Do these ads matter?

Beyond the welcome confirmation by Madison Avenue of the Gorge and Mount Hood as places of national park caliber (and generally assumed as such by most out-of-state visitors), these moments in the national spotlight have real benefits for our region. I tried a few web searches using the catch phrase from the ad, and found many queries and discussions from curious viewers trying to figure out where these ads were filmed.

A Google search for “Infiniti commercial” shows the waterfall spots to be popular

If ads like these translate into out-of-state visitors coming to experience the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood for themselves, it’s a big win for the local economy: visitors from outside our region spend much more than locals when they’re here, especially on lodging and dining.

That’s a good thing for the Gorge and Mount Hood communities, even if we can’t take credit for the free advertising — our breathtaking landscape gets star billing for that!

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?