Eagle Creek Fire: National Forest trails update

Image of hikers surrounded by scorched trees on a section of trail affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Trees on this section of Herman Creek Trail bear scorch marks from last year's Eagle Creek fire in this January 18, 2018 photo.

Trees on this section of Herman Creek Trail bear scorch marks from last year’s Eagle Creek fire in this Jan. 18, 2018 photo. To help get a jump on the work, the U.S. Forest Service is teaming up with the newly formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team and other partners to involve experienced volunteers in trail repair. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

Columbia River Gorge, Ore. – U.S. Forest Service crews and partners have made progress assessing more than 20 miles of trails on National Forest System lands within the Eagle Creek Burned Area, and volunteers have begun to help repair trails east of Cascade Locks.

Crews found a range of conditions from low burn severity to treacherous sections where washouts, landslides, and heavily burned conditions make trails hard to follow. Trails assessed first had relatively lower burn severities, gentler terrain, and/or lower risks of debris flows. All of these trails remain closed to the public at this time, due to post-fire hazards on the landscape.

Among trails assessed so far, those that fared best include parts of Gorge 400 Trail, Gorton Creek Trail, Herman Creek Trail, Ridge Cutoff 437, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Repair work has begun on some of these trails already, but none of them yet has an expected date for reopening.

Other trails did not fare so well. About 90% of Larch Mountain Trail – the popular trail that starts at Multnomah Falls – is covered with rocks along its route to the Upper Viewing Platform, and is in poor shape through its full loop with Wahkeena Trail. Nick Eaton Trail is badly burned and difficult to follow, with up to 75% of the trail needing repairs. The rock wall at the base of the short Return Trail from Wahkeena Trail to Multnomah Falls has been undercut due to burned vegetation and rock slides. The Horsetail-Oneonta Loop Hike is in treacherous shape, with large washouts and landslides making the trail difficult to follow. Crews were unable to complete their assessment of Wahclella Trail, which is also in poor condition.

An experienced trails group worked on sections of the Pacific Crest Trail January 18, 2018.

An experienced trails group worked on sections of the Herman Creek Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail Jan. 18, 2018. Trained and experienced volunteers work within the closure area, while new volunteers are invited to learn skills, gain experience, and help with trail maintenance in unburned areas. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill

One piece of welcome news: crews have confirmed that the Upper Viewing Platform at Multnomah Falls survived the fire intact.

Findings from each trail assessment to date can be found the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/crgnsa/ongoingresponsework

Recreation officials are hopeful that some of the federal trails east of Cascade Locks may be able to reopen this spring and summer, but no specific timeframe is available and work is highly weather dependent. New landslides and washouts could cause setbacks by creating further damage.

Trails west of Multnomah Falls, currently in poor condition, are a high priority for repair due to their popularity. Timelines for reopening west end trails remain highly uncertain at this time, as they will need intensive repair and rebuilding.

Finally, trails within the core area of the fire between Multnomah Falls and Herman Creek were the most severely burned and some trails may take several years to reopen. Many of the remaining trails in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area will not be assessed until the winter freeze/thaw cycle and heavy rains have subsided in late spring.

To help get a jump on the work, the U.S. Forest Service is teaming up with the newly formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team and other partners to involve experienced volunteers in trail repair.

“Normally, our trail crews don’t work during winter because conditions are constantly creating new damage, but by enlisting the help of volunteers, we’re hoping to accelerate the reopening process,” said Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the national scenic area.

A scorched Pacific Crest Trail marker remains affixed to a burned, fallen log in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, following the Eagle Creek fire.

A scorched Pacific Crest Trail marker remains affixed to a burned, fallen log in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, following the Eagle Creek fire. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

While scouting the trails, teams observed post-fire hazards such as smoldering stump holes, standing dead trees weakened by fire, uphill boulders loosened by vegetation, and rock fall and debris flow across trails that make them nearly impassable in places and require off trail scrambling. Personnel working in the burned area are required to wear protective equipment and observe other strict safety protocols to mitigate these hazards. Before these trails can open to the public, trail repairs and stabilizations will need to be put into place.

Only trained and experienced volunteers are allowed to work within the closed area as part of approved work outings organized in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. However, new volunteers can learn skills, gain experience, and help with trail maintenance in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area outside of the burned area.

Learn more by visiting https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/crgnsa/workingtogether.

More information about the fire closure and post-fire response can be found on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website at www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa and at bit.ly/eaglecreekfireresponse or by following the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area social media accounts at facebook.com/crgnsa or www.twitter.com/crgnsa.

An experienced work crew pauses in front of a trail sign during volunteer work on the Herman Creek Trail Jan. 18, 2018.

An experienced work crew pauses during volunteer work on the Herman Creek Trail Jan. 18, 2018. These initial trail work parties, with experienced and trained volunteers, are working to create a safe corridor along a four-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail to help restore the trail following damage caused by the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

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