Controversy to Collaboration: Cape Horn Trail Success Story
The Cape Horn Trail is one of the Columbia Gorge's newest trails and is quickly becoming one of its most beloved. Only minutes from Vancouver and with year-round views of the Columbia River Gorge, the Cape Horn Trail is an wild treasure for southern Washington. Its beginnings as an official trail were fraught with controversy and uncertainty.
The Cape Horn Trail is one of the Columbia Gorge's newest trails and is quickly becoming one of its most beloved. Only minutes from Vancouver and with year-round views of the Columbia River Gorge, the Cape Horn Trail is a wild treasure for southern Washington. Its beginnings as an official trail were fraught with controversy and uncertainty.
Nearly three years ago, WTA volunteers began redeveloping the user-created Cape Horn Trail in accordance with a Forest Service recreation plan hammered out through a long planning process. At the time nobody knew if it would succeed.
But thanks to the efforts of the collaborative group that formed to implement the plan, the trail has met the expectations of planners, hikers and other trail users alike.
Addressing local worries, long-term budget woes
Local residents worried about traffic, trespass and vandalism. Conservationists were alarmed about impacts to rare flora and fauna such as peregrine falcons and Larch Mt. salamanders. The Forest Service wondered how they could monitor and maintain yet another trail after years of budget cuts with no end in sight. These issues came to a head during the planning process that forged an official recreation plan adopted in early 2010.
The Cape Horn Conservancy (CHC) was a keystone organization that grew out of the planning process. Formed to steward the trail, the CHC has met regularly for the past three years with the Forest Service, WTA, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge to collaborate on volunteer events, trainings, fundraising, grant writing, and outreach and education.
Created together: new trail, protected habitat, sweeping Gorge views
Together, the groups have improved and maintained every section of the 6.5 mile trail, constructed three new bridges, three sets of steps, rerouted large portions away from sensitive habitat, built 400 ft. of turnpike, installed trail signs, built new trail segments to link the trail to two new pedestrian underpass tunnels, constructed 1/4 mile of ADA trail, and, most notably, built a magnificent stone overlook site with a sweeping view of the Gorge.
For hikers, the full loop provides fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge, an intimate look at the Cape Horn Falls and a challenging workout as it climbs and descends the rocky slopes of Cape Horn.
WTA's has taken a lead role on major construction and reroute projects; hosting more than 30 work parties per year for the past three years and training volunteers. The projects were funded collaboratively, too, with grants made to the CHC and WTA by the National Forest Foundation, South Gifford Pinchot Resource Advisory Committee (RAC), Jubitz Family Foundation, Columbia Gorge Environmental Foundation, plus many individuals who have generously supported WTA, the CHC and the Friends of Columbia Gorge.
Finishing the big stuff this winter, a future of collaboration
Looking ahead, Cape Horn volunteers and WTA aim to finish rerouting one of the last major sections this winter, marking an end to the major redevelopment phase of the trail. After that, Cape Horn can be more than just a fantastic hiking destination—it can serve as a model for how a collaborative effort can succeed in building and maintaining great trails into the future.