“I’m home” -Returning to eagle creek, July 2018.
For those who have experienced the gorge before the fire of 2018, have seen a tragedy. And to those who sauntered around among the trees and waterfalls, have lost a home.
The columbia river gorge is the crown jewel of oregon, it attracts millions of visitors each year to experience it’s yosemitie valley like wonder. Not only is it’s scale so grand, but extremely accessible even to the most crippled adventurers. The historic highway 30 from troutdale takes you over a delightful countryside, dotted with wooded areas and charming little farms. Soon after, the view of the mighty river opens up right before your eyes, leaving you speechless and in awe before dropping into the most prized piece of oregon, the waterfall world. I call it waterfall world for a reason, that reason being is depending upon the season, you can see hundreds of waterfalls in a single day if you dare get your boots and rain coat a little muddy. The waterfall world extends from crown point out over to mitchell point, the core of it being from crown point to the PCT, and undoubtedly the most popular place in oregon and continuously attracting more and more visitors each year.
Now when i say easily accessible, its because it is ridiculously accessible! you don’t even have to leave your car to see some of the most popular waterfalls as you drive along the highway. Latourell (the gateway to waterfall world), Sheppards dell, The queen of waterfall world Wahkeena falls, The king of waterfall world Multnomah Falls, and finally Horsetail falls! I’m not even mentioning the dozens of seasonal waterfalls, but that gives you a little window into what just the 4.5 mile drive lets you see. However, if you do want to stretch those legs then there are hundreds if not thousands of waterfalls just waiting beyond the basalt cliffs.
Now enough chatting, you know why it’s so popular now so lets get to the life of the gorge.
Can you hear that? what do you hear? Absolute silence? maybe it’s the breeze gently blowing through the trees above, or how about a creek and a waterfall thundering just around the corner. Birds are chirping and chipmunks running around the forest floor. How about the smell, a sweet sweet mix of earth, moss, and fir needles soaking in the spring time sunshine after last nights rain. If you’ve ever taken a hike in the gorge, you know the sounds and smells all too well. Even though you are so close to such a large city, this feels like pure paradise.
When the columbia river highway was built, the people who once never imagined such a place to exist ventured out and find a piece of beauty like no other. This was the beginning.
As time goes by, more and more visitors start coming from throughout the state, the the country, and soon… The world. The gorges hayday really begun in the 60’s when I-84 was built, providing more access to the gorge than ever before! from here on out, the gorge will never be without a human soul again.
When the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area was signed in to law, the future of the magnificentwonder was sealed. Plans to develop a neighborhood on the washington side were scrapped before it was too late. A new era has begun, beginning oregons transition away from an industry state, to a scenic state.
The designation of a scenic area has shown the world of the greatest thing the US has to offer, preservation of land for scenic and recreational use. No other country before the US ever set land aside away from development. It has shown us, that even in the 80’s, magnificent wonders can still be set aside for future scenic enjoyment. Not only that, the gorge was so impressive that politicians have fallen for it, and seen it to be more special than anyone else may have thought it to be.
The enchanting rain forest brought peace and wonder to millions of saunterers in the last century. Inspired thousands of artists. Created countless friendships, and ended the lives of a few.
The gorge was such a large part of our lives, we just forgot how fragile it really is. It’s always been there, always accessible, always within reach. But when death knocked on the door, everyone’s heart had sunk sunk.
The night of september 2nd, 2017, every portlander will remember. It’s impossible not to.
I didn’t even get more than a few words in writing this and i’m already having a hard time keeping my heart from sinking. The impact this has had on my life is immense, i can’t imagine the impact it has had to those who lived within feet from the fire. But anyway, this is about the gorge.
When the fire roared through, we have experienced nature doing it’s thing, but to us, our home was being burned down to the ground. It’s hard to accept the fact that this was bound to happen eventually, but unfortunately this has happened at the worst (or best) possible time depending on who you ask. The benefits far outweigh the cons, but those who used to play in the gorge, just have a hard time accepting the fact that this needed to happen.
For nearly a century, the gorge has been a very beautiful jungle like rain forest. Thick brush has lined the streams, moss grew on anything it could cling on, and millions of trees stood tall and proud. A single spark from a firework has changed everything we ever knew of the gorge. Once the smoke gad finally cleared, the once green ridge tops now stand black and dead, rock faces once green and vibrant now brown and exposed. This is either the biggest loss oregon has ever seen, or the reset button the gorge desperately needed. But it is undeniable that this is one of the greatest reminders of how fragile even the toughest ecosystems can be.
Once all the smoke has settled, and winter has come and gone, we get our first look into our playground. The trails we all knew and loved, are unrecognisable in many places. Washed out, covered with rock, or in need of a lot of love.
The ecosystem it self has started recovering by this time. New moss has begun to cling on to newly exposed cliffs, young little ferns started to spring up out of the blackened ground, and wildlife has made their way back into the burn area. The next few decades will be some of the greatest years to ever witness! We will finally get to see how such a unique ecosystem recovers. The forest service, oregon state parks, PCTA, TKO, WTA, and many other state, federal and private partners have come together, for the very first time as one team, to help with the recovery of our most prized possession.
The following spring, PCTA has held their annual trail skills college. This year, it was all about the recovery. I have never seen so many people come together, excited and so eager to help in any way they can to help get our beloved trails reopened, all for FREE! the first time seeing our blackened trails, we shared stories of what once was. Some were speechless, some were emotional, and some were powering through it all, but all of us shared one thing, we love this place with all our hearts. No matter how much it changes, we will continue to love it more than ever.
At this time, many trees that were clinging on to life in the fire began either dying off for good, or sprouting new life. All over the forest floor, new growth was coming in. Although countless blackened trees can be seen, there was an impressive amount of green coming out of the ground.
The gorge was recovering faster than anyone had ever originally thought! by august, everything east of the PCT was open. By september, many trails are getting their final touch up before getting ready to be opened. By october, the volunteer effort tripled from that in 2016 (Don’t take my word for it, just what i heard) For 6 months, nearly every single week, there was at least one crew going into the burn area for recovery purposes.
As of writing this, the season is winding down, but there are still well over a dozen crews scheduled for the remainder of october. Waterfalls are getting greener once again, new growth is sprouting up, and life in the gorge is gradually returning to normal.
The summer of 2018 was a magical time in oregons history. So many, i mean so so many people were so eager to help with the recovery that finding a spot in a crew was next to impossible simply of how quickly they filled up. I've found this the most heartwarming, and possibly one of the greatest things about oregon. No matter what their condition, or their limitations, they wanted to help in any way. I don’t think we’ll ever see such unification at this scale for our trails ever again. It was just, beautiful.
The Eagle Creek Fire of 2017, for better or for worse, will undoubtedly affect the way our forests are managed. It will affect everyones outlook on nature, and how we have taken it for granted all these years. We now realize, that all we ever knew and loved can be changed by one mistake. Although it is too early to tell, but i have a feeling many of us will take much better care of our wonderful public lands.