Columbia Gorge: incidents highlight dangers in closed areas

A collapsed wooden suspension footbridge.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – March 16, 2018 Many Oregon recreation sites, roads and trails remain closed in the Columbia River Gorge following the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Local first responders, such as law enforcement and Search & Rescue teams, continue to be dispatched to rescue hikers who disregard signage and barricades and trespass into closed and dangerous areas.

Responders are placed at greater risk than normal when going into the burn-affected areas due to significant hazards, such as rockfall, landslides, and fire-weakened trees that remain in the aftermath of the Eagle Creek Fire.

Hikers who trespass into closure areas will be held criminally liable for their actions by the Hood River and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Offices.

Most recently, a rescue took place on the night of March 14, when the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team was summoned to help two hikers who jumped a barrier and became lost in the Angels Rest area. Prior to that, on February 10, the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office cited three juveniles for Criminal Trespass for hiking in the closed Herman Creek area and getting lost.

“Those who choose to trespass into closed areas face potential criminal charges, and the safety of volunteers will be weighed first when considering Search and Rescue response for those who become injured or lost,” said Deputy Joel Ives, with the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office.

With spring break just days away, the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), and Hood River and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Offices remind the public to observe and adhere to signs and advisories and remain out of all closure areas.

Gorge visitation will increase as spring weather improves. Visitors need to respect signs and barricades blocking entry to the closed areas. Falling rocks, trees and other debris remain a threat and crews from multiple agencies are working to safely reopen the area closed by the fire.

Six miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway have been closed since Sept. 4, two days after the start of the fire. The section of road, from Bridal Veil to Ainsworth, is still getting hit by a barrage of rock and trees, which can fall without warning.

ODOT crews regularly use plows to remove rocks, trees and debris that fall on the road. Crews have removed about 7,000 hazard trees from that stretch of road and continue to remove trees above the steep slope on the south side of the road. No date has been set for re-opening.

The following Oregon State Parks facilities remain closed:

  • Benson State Recreation Area
  • Shepperd’s Dell State Natural Area
  • Angel’s Rest Trailhead, the trail and parking
  • John B. Yeon Trailhead, trail and parking
  • Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail trailheads and trail between
  • John Yeon and Cascade Locks, including:
    • Toothrock Trailhead, trail and parking
    • Ainsworth Day Use.
    • Starvation Creek State Parl

Additionally, all National Forest System lands within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area south of I-84, west of Starvation Creek, and east of Alex Barr and Thompson Mill Road (with the exception of the Multnomah Falls lodge building, snack area, and plaza) are CLOSED until further notice to protect public safety and natural resources due to hazards resulting from  thefire damage.

For more details about the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area closures and ideas for alternative recreation sites, visit: www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/crgnsa/recreation.

Fallen rocks lie at the base of a cliff face on along the trail

This photo of fallen rocks near Oneonta Tunnel in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area following the 2017 fire illustrates just one the many fire-related physical hazards affecting the area, such as snags (dead trees and trunks that can fall without warning), concealed and open pits caused by burned out tree roots, erosion on trails and slopes, and rock falls or landslides triggered by loss of groundcover. USDA Forest Service photo, fall 2017.

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