Fears over the rapid transmission of the novel coronavirus will soon bar the public from accessing the public overlook and switchback trails at Multnomah Falls.
The gushing pearl of the Columbia River Gorge will be closed by the U.S. Forest Service on Monday, March 23, according to workers at the adjacent Multnomah Falls Lodge. The Forest Service confirms that physical barriers will be put into place early Monday morning.
The shutting of viewing areas and the trail to the upper platform begins at 6 a.m. on Monday.
"It has become clear that some platforms and viewing areas at Multnomah Falls attract groups, making it nearly impossible for people to practice proper social distancing," said Lynn Burditt, forest supervisor for the National Scenic Area. "After observing the behavior of people at the site we determined we had to take action to help protect the community."
The lodge itself closed on Sunday, March 22, shuttering its restaurant, gift shop and coffee stand. It will be the first prolonged closure of the 1920s-era building since the Eagle Creek Fire roared through the area in 2017.
"During these tough times, tough decisions are made," the Lodge wrote on its website. "We will continue to abide by the recommendations of our state officials until the statewide mandate on restaurants is lifted. When that happens, we look forward to seeing you again."
The statement also applauds Gov. Kate Brown and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury for their leadership.
The looming closure shouldn't come as a surprise. For the past few days, the Forest Service has taken to Twitter to beg hikers to keep at least six feet apart at all times.
Fresh mountain air? NOT within 6 feet of someone else! Please do not hike crowded trails in the Gorge right now. If you cannot maintain proper #socialdistancing, stay in your car and enjoy the scenic drive. #DontBeASpreader #StayHomeStayHealthy pic.twitter.com/yuJEZNjZWX— ColumbiaRiverGorgeFS (@CRGNSA) March 22, 2020
More than 2 million people visit Multnomah Falls and its vertiginous 161-foot-long cascade of falling water each year, making it one of Oregon's top tourist destinations.
But its not just out-of-towners who have been spotted flocking to the Great Outdoors — at the same time when state and local leaders are calling on Oregonians to postpone all essential trips to halt the spread of COVID-19.
As recently as March 20, Oregon Department of Transportation warned motorists to "expect big delays" on the scenic route that leads to the waterfall and other trailheads, due to tree removal and an unseasonably high number of cars.
"The Historic Highway is seeing mid-summer traffic volumes this week with a number of people choosing to social distance in the great outdoors because of COVID-19," ODOT said. "Parking lots and roadside parking overflowed this week with cars parking in ditches and blocking intersections."
UPDATE: ODOT closure announced
The Oregon Department of Transportation said it will close the Interstate 84 parking lots at Multnomah Falls early Monday — as crowds haven't complied with social distancing measures.
ODOT says the closure will hopefully "deter people tempted to illegally access the closed trails."
The Columbia Gorge Express, a bus service on a reduced schedule due to COVID-19, will no longer make stops at the waterfall. It has stopped weekend service and will only run twice a day, early in the morning and in the late afternoon on weekdays.
The closure will last for an indefinite period of time. While many other trails in the Gorge remain open, forest rangers ask that all hikers practice social distancing and other safety measures.
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