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ODOT, U.S. Forest Service work to reopen stretch of Historic Columbia River highway

With the summer recreation season looming, a section of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth State Park remains closed, along with many of the Gorge's hiking trails.OUTLOOK PHOTO: MATT DEBOW  - Terra Lingley, ODOT national scenic area coordinator, speaks about how crews are working to reopen the Historic Columbia River Highway at the Community Policing Center on Wednesday, June 6.

Both closures were caused from lingering effects from the Eagle Creek Fire, which was declared 100 percent contained in November 2017.

Representatives from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the U.S. Forest Service spoke about the closures on Wednesday, June 6, at the Troutdale Community Policing Center.

In addition to the initial damage from the fire, rocks continue to fall on the roadway, with dead trees poised to topple over, said Terra Lingley, national scenic area coordinator for ODOT. Crews from ODOT and the U.S. Forest Service are working on removing the rocks and cutting down dead trees that pose a hazard.

In addition to working to reopen the highway, ODOT also is conducting a structural integrity survey for the Oneonta tunnel, which the Eagle Creek Fire destroyed in September. The historic tunnel was built in 1914 for car travel, closed in 1944 and reconstructed in 2009 for pedestrian travel. OUTLOOK PHOTO: MATT DEBOW  - Rachel Pawlitz, U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer, speaks about what trails are still closed in the gorge.

The project to identify and eventually rebuild the structure is eligible for a Federal Lands Access Grant that would reimburse the project entirely.

In addition to the road closure, most Gorge trails remain closed. Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, provided an update on the closures. Trails east of Cascade Locks should open soon, and generally higher-use trails on the west end of Cascade Locks should open by the end of the year.

"Trails that are in OK shape remain closed if they're next to a badly burned trail," she said.

An audience member asked if people are coming to the area just to look at the fire damage.

"A lot of people coming don't even know there was a fire," Pawlitz responded. "We did expect some fire (-related) tourism." FILE PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - A section of the Historic Columbia River Highway including near Mulnomah Falls remains closed.

Most of the recent traffic represents the usual tourist boost of the summer season.

An audience member asked if there is a greater worry of more fires this year.

"It's no different from a normal fire year," Pawlitz noted, adding that the fire served as a wake-up call for tourists to exercise more caution while enjoying the area. "It's OK to be concerned, but don't panic."

For a full list of trail closures, visit www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/crgnsa/alertsnotices/?aid=41589.

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