Falls fence removed, restoring access to viewing platform in the Columbia River Gorge.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL PAWLITZ  - Visitors snap photos of Multnomah Falls while standing at a newly-reopened viewing platform on Monday, March 19. The views of Multnomah Falls are now fence free — just in time for the first selfie of spring.

The lower viewing platform at the famed Columbia River Gorge waterfall reopened to the public on Monday, March 19. For months prior, as a result of damage from the Eagle Creek wildfire, visitors could only poke their noses through a fence that screened off the public plaza in front of the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge.

That left most daytrippers dejected, noted U.S. Forest spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz. Their photos would show the falls, but only through the rusty chain links of the fence in the foreground.

"I'm totally getting a different demeanor today. They're smiling, they're happy," Pawlitz said by phone while standing at the scenic site. "I'm seeing people from around the world. You hear different languages and you see a different garb."

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL PAWLITZ  - This young man proposed to his girlfriend shortly after the lower viewing platform reopened at Multnomah Falls on Monday. March 19.A few hours later, one man popped the question to his girlfriend.

"It's just such a world-class attraction, and today they're coming out here and they're happy," she continued. "They're coming out here to get a firsthand look for themselves."

Foresters have spent months scraping dead trees and loose rock from the slopes of the falls, whose surrounding area was completely shuttered on Sept. 4, two days after the human-sparked Eagle Creek Fire was ignited.

The restaurant, gift shop and snack bar have been open since Nov. 29.

Workers have also rebuilt the catchment fence that will protect viewers down below if more debris starts to slide or trees topple.

"The rockfall catchment fence (did) its job during the fire and caught a lot of trees and rocks that came down the slope, but we needed to replace it," Pawlitz said. "The poles were intact, so they rebuilt it from the poles up."

Next up, the Forest Service hopes to reopen access to the iconic, arched, concrete Benson Bridge in time for summer 2018. They'll need to rebuild a wooden footbridge that was burned by the wildfire first.

Allowing hikers onto the steep switchbacks that lead to the top of Multnomah Falls will take even more time. An earlier assessment found that 90 percent of the pathway, the north end of the Larch Mountain Trail, is covered in fallen rocks.

Tourists and locals can visit Multnomah Falls by parking in the lot off Interstate 84, but if the lot fills up, they're out of luck.

Nearby Benson State Recreation Area is still closed, as is a six-mile stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth State Park. There is no timeline for ending those closures either.

"Rocks and trees continue to fall on the road, and ODOT will keep the road closed until it can safely re-open," an announcement from the Forest Service reports. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: RACHEL PAWLITZ  - The Shady Creek footbridge, shown here, must be rebuilt before visitors will be able to trek up to the iconic Benson Bridge.

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