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TKO Returns to Angel’s Rest and More

March 17, 2018

By Steve Kruger, Executive Director, Trailkeepers of Oregon

On September 19, 2017, TKO volunteers had every intention to make their yearly return to Angel’s Rest. The site of our first official trail work party in 2008, this place is very dear to all of us, and we make a special effort to come back and take care of this trail on a regular basis. As the Eagle Creek fire lit up and rolled on in dramatic fashion through summer’s end and into fall, our return wasn’t meant to be as planned. We worried that we would not get the chance to visit some of these special places for quite some time. We intentionally avoided saying these Gorge work parties were “canceled,” instead declaring that the events were “postponed” for the time being. By making that distinction, I shared my own determination that when the smoke cleared and the area was deemed safe, we’d be the first to sign on and bring those trails back again.

A man stands on a trail in front of standing burned trees and a tree across the trail.

Steve Kruger stands atop the Upper McCord Trail that leads to the overlook of Elowah Falls. In January, he and lead TKO volunteers scouted the trail for the first time and saw that it has a long way to go before being opened to the public. (Photo by Tom Kloster)


Over the course of this winter we went to work with our Gorge trail partners, the US Forest Service, and Oregon State Parks to plan for our return. We gathered hundreds of volunteers in a series of trainings and work parties at sites stretching from the Tillamook State Forest of the Oregon Coast Range to the Mosier Plateau in the eastern Gorge. Like no winter season prior, we held a steady stream of work parties and special training sessions, pushing hard to build our capacity.

A class of over a dozen people on folding chairs and benches in a room with bookshelves and birds on the walls.

TKO volunteers and instructors attend a trail-building workshop at Portland Audubon. Our partners at Audubon graciously offered their classroom space. We have a good history of providing volunteer trail work parties regularly and the site offers excellent learning opportunities for our participants. (Photo by Steve Kruger)

Not having enough crew leaders has been hindering us from doing more for Oregon’s trails. It has been exciting to see so many potential leaders come calling to join our team. From five crew leader volunteers before the fire, TKO now has a team of twenty volunteers who are learning to lead crews safely on Oregon’s trails. As the crew leader apprenticeship program grows, so will our geographic reach as we grow our trail stewardship program across local, state, and federal lands. Certainly we have a lot to do in the Gorge, but we aim to build our presence in different parts of Oregon as well.

A dozen people in hard hats and rain gear cluster around a fallen over wood sign.

TKO crew leaders scouting at Ainsworth State Park and Gorge Trail #400. This group deserves special praise for stepping up and leading our work parties on a regular basis, helping us connect more volunteers to the trails we all care about so much. (Photo by Miranda Mendoza, Oregon Parks and Recreation)


Our hurry-up-and-wait quickly changed to action in January, when we had some of our more experienced volunteers scout fire-affected trails and do initial trail corridor clearing in the Eagle Creek fire area. With our friends at the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), we started trail work on the Pacific Crest Trail from Cascade Locks to the Herman Creek area. Having the guidance of PCTA and US Forest Service field staff has helped TKO decide how best to start on other trails of the Gorge.

Two people look on while a third sticks an ax handle into a deep hole in the middle of a trail on a burnt-over slope.

US Forest Service staff at a “hell hole” on upper Angel’s Rest Trail. This phenomenon occurs when the fire burns a stump out to the ends of its root system, far underground, causing the trail to cave in. (Photo by Steve Kruger)

A half-dozen people stand talking on a hillside of rocks, bare soil, and black tree trunks and stalks of former vegetation.

A scouting crew of TKO volunteers, Multnomah County Search and Rescue, and US Forest Service staff on a completely burned-out section of upper Angel’s Rest Trail. (Photo by Steve Kruger)

A woman in yellow jacket and orange hard hat bends over a rutted curve of trail on a steep, burned-over slope.

TKO crew leader Susan Schen identifying a systemic issue of trail rutting that was a problem before the fire and has now been exacerbated by lack of vegetation to slow erosion. (Photo by Steve Kruger)

From February to the end of March, we have a fully loaded schedule of trail scouting and work parties across closed sections of the Gorge—from Mitchell Point to Angel’s Rest. In March, six months after our original September date, we have returned with tools in hand to Angel’s Rest, doing what we do to improve these trails to a standard like never before.

Five people in green hard hats stand downhill of a trail with their trail tools in front of them on the trail tread.

TKO volunteers work on the trail connecting to the overflow parking at Angel’s Rest Trailhead. Crews have been working to clear the effects of the fire, to fix systemic issues of tread creep, and to catch up on a backlog of maintenance matters. (Photo by Steve Kruger)

Eighteen hard-hatted workers stand and crouch for a posed photo.

Volunteers from Portland State University’s Outdoor Program with our TKO crew leaders. TKO is hosting a PSU trail work crew once per term. (Photo by TKO)

The added support TKO has received has enabled the organization to grow. In two and a half months of 2018, we have hosted nearly thirty work party events with over 300 volunteers, stretching from the Oregon Coast Range, across Portland, to the base of Mt. Hood near Zigzag, and far east out past Hood River. To put that in perspective, over the entire year of 2016 we hosted forty work parties with 350 volunteers. Though frustrating for many potential volunteers, all the spots in every single trail work party event quickly filled. A good problem to have, but I recognize we must provide more opportunities for volunteers. For the Gorge, we will be hiring staff to support the trail recovery efforts. You’ll also notice that we are expanding our programs in a number of ways—providing trail workshops across northwest Oregon and bringing tools to the trail at a number of new sites in the coming months.

A woman with fabric over the lower half of her face holds trail tools as she stands on a grassy field high above a wide blue river with mountains in the distance.

TKO volunteer coordinator Nat Ferraro smiles beneath her buff atop Mosier Plateau at a recent work party to improve the trail before wildflower season arrives. (Photo by Chip Andrus)

A woman in a green hard hat smiles for the camera.

TKO volunteer Mary volunteers regularly for Washington Trails Association and is all smiles as she pitches in to help on Gorge Trail #400. (Photo by Megan Zabel Holmes)

Here are some ways to get involved and stay informed:

  • Sign up for TKO Trail Workshop Series—Tread School (101 Weekend). TKO, partner, and agency instructors will deliver comprehensive trails training, setting a foundation of trail design and maintenance skills. Expert and novice alike will build relationships with current and future trail stewards to hone their understanding of how trails work through hands-on experiences.
  • Join us at “Gorge Talks: Towns, Trails, and Trees.” Join REI, Friends of Columbia Gorge, and Trailkeepers of Oregon for this three-part series. On the first Wednesday of each month from April through June, uniquely-themed presentations will highlight how the Columbia Gorge is recovering from the Eagle Creek fire. $10 gets you a Lagunitas beer and REI gear and other swag.
  • Follow the Gorge Stewardship and Trails Resilience Facebook page, scheduled to go live the second half of March. The page is a collaborative effort of the Gorge Trails Recovery Team (which consists of four nonprofits—Trailkeepers of Oregon, Pacific Crest Trail Association, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and Washington Trails Association), and the US First Service and other partners. The page will provide up-to-date information about the trails, best practices for hiking and camping, volunteer opportunities, volunteer work parties, Gorge history, training programs, education, and more.
A man extends his hands toward a steep dirt slope as a half-dozen others in hard hats look on.

Guy Hamblen presents to TKO volunteers a rock wall project in progress at an Angel’s Rest Trail switchback. Guy, a regular Washington Trails Association volunteer, shared his extensive rock experience with our crews working on trails affected by the Eagle Creek fire. (Photo courtesy of Guy Hamblen)

Steve Kruger: steve.kruger@trailkeepersoforegon.org







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