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Columbia River Gorge trails reopened after 2017 wildfire

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

By Jamie Hale The Oregonian

PORTLAND – More than three years after the devastating Eagle Creek fire, the trail where the blaze began is back open to hikers.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Friday that the Eagle Creek Trail has officially reopened, along with several other hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge that closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wahclella Trail, Gorge 400 Trail, and portions of the Larch Mountain Trail between Multnomah Falls and the Wahkeena Trail are all reopened as well. Other trails closed by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire remain closed, including several around Eagle Creek and neighboring John B. Yeon State Park.

Hikers are encouraged to exercise caution as they return to the Eagle Creek Trail and other areas damaged by the wildfire, the forest service said. Already prone to landslides during the rainy season, the many canyons and cliffside areas can be especially dangerous after strong rains or windstorms.

Drivers will also want to check for road closures. The exit to Eagle Creek off Interstate 84 has closed intermittently due to landslides over the last year, closing most recently on Wednesday.

Reopening the Eagle Creek Trail is a big achievement for officials in the Columbia Gorge, following several years of collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, with work done by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Trailkeepers of Oregon, Washington Trails Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

The 25-mile trail is one of the most popular destinations in the Columbia Gorge, home to several scenic waterfalls found only a few miles from the trailhead. Hikers will now get their first look at how the natural area fared following the fire.

Volunteers and employees spent thousands of hours clearing and rebuilding trails, cutting downed trees, replacing bridges, rebuilding structures and mitigating invasive species to make the area safe for hikers to return.

“On behalf of our interagency team I would like to express our gratitude to the public for your patience and support and to all the volunteers whose unwavering commitment, dedication and resources, facilitated our ability to open these trails today,” forest supervisor Lynn Burditt said in a news release Friday.

The Eagle Creek Fire was started on Sept. 2, 2017, by a firecracker on the Eagle Creek Trail. The fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge, torching forests around popular hiking areas on the Oregon side of the river. Hundreds of people were evacuated, and 176 hikers required rescue as the blaze quickly spread.

Hikers can check the status of U.S. Forest Service trails at fs.usda.gov/recmain/crgnsa/recreation and Oregon state park trails at stateparks.oregon.gov.

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