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Visitors urged to use extra caution while hiking in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Recreation sites in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area that have been closed since the outbreak of the Eagle Creek Fire last September are starting to reopen.

The latest areas to open are Benson State Recreation Area, and trails in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness east of Cascade Locks. Those sites were reopened on Thursday, June 14.

The trails are inside sections of the Gorge that burned heavily during the fire, meaning the ground could be unstable particularly in areas where underbrush plants burned away, according to a press release from the U.S. Forest Service. There also are more potential hazards in burned areas, and hikers are encouraged to keep an eye out for fire-weakened trees, rockslides and landslides.

The Eagle Creek Fire was started by a 15-year-old boy throwing fireworks into the Eagle Creek Canyon. The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, was ordered to pay $36 million in restitution.

The fire consumed more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge, before it was declared 100 percent contained in November 2017.

In the newly opened areas, hikers should wear sturdy footwear and bring sufficient supplies to survive overnight. In the event of heavy winds, visitors should leave the area to avoid falling trees.

Many of the newly opened trails connect to other trails that remain closed. It is illegal for hikers to venture off to closed connector trails, and anyone found on a closed trail could be cited and fined.

Staying on the trail is not only important for safety, it helps protect an ecosystem's recovery as well, according to the release. Bare soil is susceptible to invasive species, and those traveling off of the marked trails could cause damage.

For a full list of Eagle Creek closures, visit bit.ly/eaglecreekfireresponse.

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