Looking beyond the ashes in the Columbia River Gorge

01/30/2018

Green fern growing in burned areaFrom the scars left by the Eagle Creek fire, new life is already emerging. Rest assured, the forest will return – just as it has in the past after wildfire. In fact, burned landscapes left to recover naturally are some of the richest and rarest in the Pacific Northwest.

Where can I hike?

Many trails and parks are closed to keep visitors safe — burned trees are weak trees that could fall, and bare slopes are more susceptible to mudslides.

Areas affected include 140 miles of trails from Bridal Veil Falls to Starvation Creek Falls. Some trails will open this spring and summer; others will not be safe to open until 2019.

The good news: the burned area represents only a sixth of the National Scenic Area. There is still much to explore. A list of hikes is at Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Closures in the National Scenic Area are listed on the U.S. Forest Service website.

Oregon State Parks closures include:

Check back for a schedule of when these parks and trails will reopen.

Steps to recovery

The Gorge is protected as a federal National Scenic Area. Any reforestation must be done with the U.S. Forest Service and partnering agencies, including Oregon State Parks and Oregon Department of Transportation.

The first step is to assess ecological damage, remove some hazard trees that could fall on roads or trails and evaluate which parks and trails are safe for the public. Land managers will leave the majority of burned trees where they are to decompose, enriching the soil with nitrogen and creating a fertile foundation for new life.

The first ferns are already sprouting. Groundcover will continue to fill in this spring, followed by grasses and wildflowers — all providing food for animals and birds. Shrubs and trees that like lots of sunlight, such as pines and firs, will follow. As they grow, shade-loving trees such as alders and maples will sprout.
Botanists will help guide the recovery by monitoring for and removing invasive weeds, and planting where needed.

Full recovery will take decades, especially in some of the harshest areas, like rocky outcrops. In time, the forest will look more like it did in the past, with fewer firs and more alders, oaks and western red cedars. Much of this will happen — and is already happening — naturally, without our help.

How can I help?

Volunteer. Sign up for the Gorge Trails Recovery Team for updates on spring trail building and stewardship work parties, along with trainings and courses to get you prepared.

Donate. The National Forest Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, is accepting donations.

Be patient with the recovery process. It’s tempting to go out and plant, but please don’t. Trust mother nature.

Help us spread the word that natural recovery takes time.

More information

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
541-308-1700

Oregon State Parks
West Columbia River Gorge: 503-695-2261
East Columbia River Gorge: 541-374-8811
Information Line: 800-551-6949