Comment on Trail Plans in the Gorge
Last Tuesday, Forest Service staff hosted a public meeting in White Salmon to discuss the future of Catherine Creek, Coyote Wall and the Burdoin Mountain Areas of the Columbia Gorge. A recently released environmental assessment (EA) considers these adjacent areas, seeking to balance increasing recreation demand with natural resource protection in one comprehensive recreation plan. Read more in this article in the Vancouver Columbian.
The areas cover about 4,700 acres in the Columbia River Gorge , about an hour and a half upriver from Vancouver. In the early 1990s the Forest Service acquired acreage in the area, primarily in the Catherine Creek drainage, recognizing the importance of Oak woodland habitat to many plant and animal species. Rare and unique populations of animals include the western grey squirrel, lewis woodpecker and California mountain king snake.
The main goal of the assessment is dealing with a proliferation of unofficial trail building, including steep fall-line trails that have led to erosion, wildlife impacts, user conflicts and complaints from some private property owners. Though many of the bootleg trails have been created by mountain bikers, other hiking and equestrian trails that are not sustainably designed are putting pressure on a precious landscape.
Alternative 1 continues the current management direction. In a nutshell this alternative would seek to close undesignated trails except for 7 miles of planned trails for hiker use in the Catherine Creek area. Equestrian and mountain bike use would be restricted to Atwood Road, a county managed double-track that traverses the area.
Alternatives 2 and 3 were forged through a collaborative process including representatives from the different user groups and wildlife advocates, including WTA advisory board member, Susan Saul. Both alternatives close trails that impinge on private land, reduce trail density and eliminate undesignated trails near sensitive habitat. It total the proposed trail system under alternatives 2 and 3 would reduce the existing trail mileage from approx. 37 miles to 27 miles. Some popular routes are included in the closure such as the Coyote Wall Trail and several trails in the so-called Labyrinth area. Dogs would be required to be leashed in all areas from December 1 – June 30 to minimize impacts to wildfire. Hikers would be encouraged to stay on trails, but not prohibited from hiking off-trail.
The key difference between alternatives 2 and 3 is that under alternative 2, the Catherine Creek Trails (about 12 miles of the total in the planning area) would be designated as hiker-only. Alternative 3 would allow equestrians and mountain bikes on the Catherine Creek trails after June 30 through December 1.
You can read the complete EA here.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy hiking at Catherine Creek, Coyote Wall or Burdoin Mountain? Post a comment to this blog or contact WTA advocacy director Jonathan Guzzo by email or at 206-625-1367. If you would like to submit your own comments on the EA, send them to Daniel Harkenrider at 902 Wasco, Suite 200, Hood River, Oregon,97031, or-e-mail your comments here. The deadline for comment is Feb. 28.