Two trails and a scenic landmark in the Columbia River Gorge have re-opened to the public on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
Vista House, the 2.5-mile Latourell Falls loop and the 0.6-mile Bridal Veil Falls hike are back on the map, Oregon Department of Transportation officials say. The restored access follows an 11-week closure caused by the Eagle Creek Fire.
Road crews have also re-opened a six-mile stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway between East Larch Mountain Road and Bridal Veil.
"We're looking forward to welcoming folks back to the gorge, but we really need to do it in a sustainable and safe manner," said Park Manager Clay Courtright at the Latourell Falls trailhead east of Vista House at Crown Point.
"We're going to ask that hikers are respectful of one another while passing, that they stay on the trails, because this trail isn't used to seeing that level of density of use in a confined area," he continued. "Normally, we'd have 30 trail systems open for folks to disperse their trail usage."
Courtright highlighted the Angel's Rest Hike as being especially damaged. Other paths, like Trail 400, are staying shut because they allow travel to unsafe areas.
Between 250 and 300 fire-damaged trees have been chopped down along the open portion of the historic highway, many by rock scalers who rappel down the steep slopes now stripped clean of vegetation.
In September, about 160 ODOT employees were assigned to the gorge — and that doesn't count the dozens of contract lumberjacks, noted Maintenance Manager Kent Kalsch.
Currently, there are about 40 to 45 ODOT staffers working on cleanup efforts, including historians who ensure old foundations and other artifacts aren't disturbed during tree removal."You're constantly trying to proceed ahead and then chasing emergencies as they pop up," Kalsch explained. "A few weeks ago, we had debris flows ... Then the first big rains and winds blew all the dead pine needles out on the freeway and were plugging and flooding the drains."
Standing outside her bed and breakfast, Beatriz Parga laughed when asked what drew her to Bridal Veil about three years ago.
"The weather," she responded.
The owner of Bridal Veil Lodge has been hit with cancellations in the fire's aftermath, though she's since set up a system with ODOT to let new guests slip through the cordon.The 28-acre property wasn't damaged by the wildfire, though Parga was left in the dark for a week after fleeing the fire with her pets.
"Fear didn't hit until we evacuated," she recalled. "We weren't sure what had happened, and being uncertain what we were going to come back to — that was the fear."
The Lodge is currently booking for the summer 2018 wedding season.
Chief Deputy Jason Gates with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office offered "a hard truth" to day trippers who ignore the law and end up under a sudden rockslide or snapped tree.
"If people choose to ignore the dangers associated with these trails, and wander into these areas outside the law," he warned, "we're going to do everything we possibly can to come and get you and rescue you. But I can't guarantee that. Because conditions may be such that it's too dangerous for our personnel to go up there."