The most popular tourist destination in the state of Oregon is trying to cut down on the crush of traffic each summer with a new online ticketing system.
Visitors to Multnomah Falls and the Historic Lodge must now reserve a time slot before visiting. The new system was launched in coordination between the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Transportation.
"We have been talking for quite some time about a plan for mitigating parking and traffic congestion issues on the Historic Highway and Interstate 84," said Karen Davis, public affairs officer with the Forest Service. "This is a short-term solution that will hopefully make things better for visitors.
The tickets cost $1 each, with a maximum of 6 per transaction, and allow a 1-hour timeslot to arrive at the falls. Once through the gate within that timeframe, visitors can spend as long as they wish at Multnomah Falls.
"We know people love to go hiking for a few hours around the falls, so this system won't affect those plans," Davis said.
Anyone visiting the falls between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. must have tickets. Otherwise if you arrive earlier or later, no tickets are needed. There are other caveats as well. No tickets are needed for anyone 2 years old or under, if you arrive by bicycle or on foot, if you take public transit, or if you have a reservation at the lodge restaurant.
Tickets to Multnomah Falls can be purchased online. You will get a QR code to present at the entrance. There will be 480 tickets per timeslot two weeks in advance, and an additional 100 tickets made available 48 hours before arrival.
The ticket program was instituted Tuesday morning, July 20, and will continue until Sept. 19 to account for the busiest months at Multnomah Falls. The tickets will return sometime late spring of next year.
The need to control traffic at the falls was necessitated by the crush of people visiting the site.
"Traffic, congestion, and visitation to Multnomah Falls have all been through the roof," said Terra Lingley, ODOT's Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area coordinator.
The parking horror stories were giving officials nightmares. Dozens of cars were lining up along Interstate-84 waiting for the gate to the main lot to lift; people were queuing for more than an hour to find a spot in the miniscule Historic Columbia River Highway parking lot; and Uber drivers were dropping people off along the Interstate when the gates were closed.
"We had a number of safety concerns we needed to address," Lingley said.
In addition to the new ticketing system, officials are also strongly encouraging people to stop parking at the Historic Highway lot. There is now a flagger to keep traffic moving along that roadway, a system implemented in May, and cars traveling eastbound can no longer turn into the Historic Highway lot. Also Friday through Monday the westbound entrance to the I-84 lot will remain blocked.
"We want people to keep coming to visit Multnomah Falls," Lingley said. "This isn't a people problem, it is a vehicle problem."
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