Looking beyond the ashes in the Columbia River Gorge

06/28/2018

Green fern growing in burned areaFrom the scars left by the Eagle Creek fire, new life is 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 have already opened; others will not be safe to open until this fall or even in 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 and on this map.

Oregon State Parks closures include:

Check back for updates on when these parks and trails will reopen.

Where can I bike?

The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail between Hood River and Mosier — known as the Twin Tunnels Section — is open and offers a scenic, 4.5-mile ride with stunning views of the Columbia River and passage through the historic Twin Tunnels, a remnant of the original highway.

Long-distance cycling

The Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department are working to reopen the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail as soon as possible. Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge is open and bicyclists may ride on the freeway at their own risk. Another option is Highway 14 in Washington. Visit the Adventure Cycling Association website for a detailed map included with their Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail route series.

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.

We are also working with nonprofits Trail Keepers of Oregon and Friends of the Columbia River Gorge to maintain open trails, monitor and remove invasive species and plant where a little additional “help” is needed. We 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.

Signs of recovery are abundant. The first ferns sprouted this spring, followed by 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.

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.

Respect closed areas. These are active work zones, and the areas aren’t safe. Rocks, limbs and trees continue to fall. Additionally, young plants have fragile root system that may not survive human disturbance.

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