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Forest Service Closes Illegally Constructed Trail in the Columbia River Gorge

Posted by Ryan Ojerio at Jul 29, 2011 08:36 PM |
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A user-built trail in the Columbia River Gorge again draws the attention of the Forest Service.

Recent reports of an unsanctioned trail built on Forest Service and DNR lands in the Columbia River Gorge have agency staff concerned about their ability to manage the increasing demand for recreation in the Gorge. The Forest Service moved quickly to post "Trail Closed" signs on the 6.5 mile route, but not before it was included in Mazamas' guided hike schedule and described in their monthly newsletter.

During the past two years the Columbia River Gorge has twice adopted user-built trails into their trail system, first at Cape Horn and then again at Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek. In both cases the official trail plans call for significant changes to the trails including reroutes, closures and reconstruction based on the findings of an environmental assessment. In both cases the planning process was contentious with battle lines drawn between recreation advocates and conservation advocates.

Having my ear to the ground in the region I've heard people say that the conversion of user-built trails into the system sets a bad precedent, invites more illegal trail building, subverts the rule of law and sacrifices natural and cultural resources. And I've heard the other side of the story too - that the agency processes are too slow, too rigid and overly sensitive to environmental concerns, and thus deny the huge public benefits that trails afford.

WTA has a clear policy against building unsanctioned trails and would rather see enthusiastic trail users put their energy towards the new trail projects we are working on or by participating in the planning process.

At Cape Horn we're building trail reroutes to bring the user-built trail up to standard. At Catherine Creek we're attending regular meetings to work with the Forest Service on implementing the Catherine Creek Recreation Plan. And on DNR property near Silver Star Mt. we're poised to begin flagging new routes that are practically "shovel ready." We are also eager to partner with the Cape Horn Conservancy and the Friends of the Gorge as they aim to link Gorge towns with Gorge trails, such as the Washougal to Stevenson route that already has Forest Service support.

If you would like to be involved in any of these efforts please contact WTA's Southwest Washington Regional Coordinator, Ryan Ojerio, at ryan@wta.org. Staff at the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area and DNR officials are discussing a strategy to deal with this issue, but details are yet to be released. Stay tuned.

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