By Tom Kloster, President, Trailkeepers of Oregon Fires in the Columbia River Gorge are as old as the place itself. Early white settlers called it the “Devil’s Wind” when summer drought combined with the wind-tunnel effect of the…
From Latourell Falls to Mosier Plateau, TKO volunteers put in 6,171 hours (257 days!) in the Columbia River Gorge throughout 2023 ensuring your favorite trails remain ready to welcome you on your adventures. Read on for fun insight on the wide variety of trails and projects that you, our community, helped us to pursue!
Trail stewardship in the Columbia River Gorge comes with plenty of challenges – frequent slides, fires, downed trees, and more, but that hasn’t stopped Trailkeepers. In 2023 alone, TKO volunteers stewarded 286,112 feet of Gorge trails, totaling over 54 miles! One trail that received its fair share of these efforts is the fan-favorite Larch Mountain Trail. Volunteers managed to completely clear this 6.8-mile trail from top to bottom and helped to repair a 15-foot wash out on the section approaching Multnomah Falls, installing gabions and a robust rock retaining wall to restore the trail for visitors.
Giving the Larch Mountain Trail a run for its money, the Bell Creek and Horsetail Creek Trail system presented a worthy challenge for TKO volunteers. One of TKO’s Volunteer Crew Leaders, Pete, was invaluable to this effort and led countless trail parties up this tough trail. Of the season, Pete says: “I was struck that there were roughly 10 trail parties canceled due to weather. Even so, 1,717 miles have been covered over 20 trail parties just since July. Some individuals likely did upwards of 180 miles – I think that’s about the length of the Appalachian Trail.”
Perhaps one of the less famous trails of the Gorge, the Gorge 400 still holds a special place in our hearts at TKO and was the site for countless training and stewardship events in 2023. In early spring, volunteers came out to hone their saw skills and were able to clear a significant amount of windfall (238 trees to be exact!) ahead of the annual Gorge 50k race hosted by our friends at Daybreak Racing. Spanning ~35 miles, this trail offers endless opportunities for introducing volunteers to trail stewardship basics like brushing vegetation and improving trail surface.
It’s impossible to fully describe the efforts and impacts TKO volunteers have had in the Gorge. There are countless stories behind the 829 logs cleared and 176 trail parties, and we want to leave you with one we feel encapsulates the importance and power of volunteer trail stewards: At the peak of summer at Latourell Falls, a TKO Trail Ambassador engaged with a woman who had been badly hurt mistakenly attempting to traverse a user trail (a non-sanctioned, unofficial trail). Upon receiving this report from the Ambassador, TKO staff coordinated with Oregon State Parks to host trail parties aimed at decommissioning these dangerous trails. After some long days moving rocks, plants, and debris, this iconic location in the Gorge is that much safer for trail users of all backgrounds and abilities. When community members, volunteers, and land managers work together for the betterment of Oregon trails, big changes can be made!
The Gorge is a well-loved and heavily visited area for outdoor recreation in Oregon, meaning it needs consistent monitoring and upkeep. TKO volunteers are ready and willing to tackle trail issues as they arise – we just need your support to continue providing them with the best tools, training, and trail experiences possible! Consider a contribution to our Legacy Builders campaign this week (12/18 – 12/24) to be entered to win an Arc’teryx Atom Hoody valued at $300. Every bit goes towards caring for all your favorite Gorge trails!