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Grand Reopening of the Old Vista Ridge Trail

September 26, 2018

By Tom Kloster, Board Member, Trailkeepers of Oregon

Have you hiked the Old Vista Ridge Trail #626A to Owl Point? This historic route was unofficially reopened by volunteers in 2007 after decades of neglect, and has since become a popular new hike with spectacular views of Mount Hood’s dramatic north face.

 On July 8 this year, the venerable old trail was officially reopened by Trailkeepers of Oregon and the US Forest Service at a special grand celebration, moving it out of the shadows. Under a special adoption agreement with the Forest Service, TKO will maintain the trail in perpetuity.

Three hard-hatted people crouch side by side with their hands on a cut section of log.

TKO volunteers cleared several logs the old fashioned way with crosscut saws on grand reopening day. (Photo by Paul Gerald)

While the Old Vista Ridge Trail is new to many hikers, it has a long history. The route we know today appears to have been constructed in the 1920s and early ’30s, during the boom era for forest lookouts. Telephone insulators and wires that connected the old fire lookouts can still be found along the trail.

But the early Forest Service routes were not the first trails in the area. American Indians in the region had been visiting the slopes of Owl Point and Vista Ridge for centuries, both for the huckleberry fields that still cover the slopes and for ceremonies. Sharp-eyed hikers exploring this area have found numerous ceremonial pits, rock structures that are thought to have had a spiritual function.

The industrial logging era that began in our national forests in the 1950s brought big changes to the area. By the 1960s, logging roads had extended up the north slopes of the high country surrounding Owl Point, and much of the Clear Branch Valley had been logged. Plans called for eventually logging the entire area, with a road planned to extend over the saddle where the restored trail begins, joining the road stub that now serves as the Vista Ridge trailhead.

In the late 1960s, the Forest Service dropped the northern portion of the Vista Ridge Trail from official maps. As a result, the northern section of this old trail fell into disrepair over the next several decades, with hundreds of downed trees blocking the route and dense brush completely covering the route in many sections. A sign at the trailhead declared this trail “Not Maintained.”

The trail continued to accumulate more downfall and debris over the years until 2007, when a group of volunteers from the Oregon Hikers community converged on the trail. Inspired by the beauty of places like Owl Point and Blind Luck Meadow from a fall 2006 scouting trip, the volunteers worked through the summer of 2007 to clear more than 200 logs from the trail, brush out the overgrown sections, and put the trail back on the map for hikers.

On March 30, 2009, President Obama signed an historic bill into law that greatly expanded the Mount Hood Wilderness to protect the entire Clear Branch Valley, including Owl Point. The new wilderness boundary follows the Old Vista Ridge Trail for most of its length, once again marking the old route on Forest Service maps. The wilderness expansion also ensured that the spectacular view from Owl Point would always remain wild, quiet, and pristine.

Today, the Old Vista Ridge hike to Owl Point is a scenic outing for hikers looking for a moderate (four miles round-trip) trail with big views. For more ambitious hikers, the hike is a great add-on to trips along the Vista Ridge Trail to places like Cairn Basin or Elk Cove. The dramatic view from Owl Point is best in the evening, making it a perfect way to cap a longer hike on the mountain.

Birthplace of Trailkeepers of Oregon

That first volunteer trip to the Old Vista Ridge Trail in 2007 also inspired the formation of Trailkeepers of Oregon. Since those early days of completing just one or two projects per month, TKO now leads three or four trail projects every week and hundreds of volunteer trail events every year, and has become Oregon’s leading trail advocacy and stewardship organization.

Posting official Forest Service signs was the first order of the day as the Old Vista Ridge Trail is once again officially open to hikers. (Photo by Tom Kloster)

After many years of continuing informally to tend to the Old Vista Ridge Trail, TKO approached the Forest Service in 2016 with a proposal to adopt the Old Vista Ridge Trail as a means of having it officially brought back into the National Forest trail system. The Hood River Ranger District was instrumental in working out the adoption agreement, and the July 8, 2018, official reopening ceremony marked the formal rededication of the Old Vista Ridge Trail as part of the Mount Hood National Forest trail system.

TKO volunteers celebrated the grand reopening at spectacular Owl Point, the most popular destination along the Old Vista Ridge Trail. (Photo by Tom Kloster)

TKO’s agreement with the Forest Service is to take care of the Old Vista Ridge Trail from now on. We are also planning future extensions of the trail that will allow hikers to reach Owl Point from a trailhead at Laurance Lake. Watch the TKO website and Facebook postings for future outings if you’d like to help us tend this old trail, where volunteers do everything from trimming brush to clearing logs with crosscut saws. No experience is necessary, just your hard work and donated day on Old Vista Ridge!

TKO executive director Steve Kruger and Hood River district ranger Janeen Tervo cut the ribbon at the official reopening of the Old Vista Ridge Trail. (Photo by Tom Kloster)

By Tom Kloster, Board Member, Trailkeepers of Oregon

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