Oregon Trails Coalition Vision for Trails on Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge
Congressman Blumenauer and Senator Wyden recently invited feedback on a series of draft legislative concepts designed to improve access to Mt. Hood and the Gorge and to improve management, address wildfire risk, enhance recreation, and protect natural resources. In response, and with the help of many Coalition partners, the Oregon Trails Coalition developed the following shared vision for trails in this treasured landscape:
The Honorable Senator Wyden
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Representative Blumenauer
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D. C. 20515
Subject: Legislative Concepts for Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge
The Oregon Trails Coalition is a coalition of broad-based, statewide trail interests dedicated to supporting, promoting, and advocating for the preservation, development, and stewardship of a statewide network of sustainable, world class trails that provide access to outdoor recreation and active transportation for all. We are a coalition of federal, state, and local agencies, trail user groups, outdoor industry and tourism partners, media professionals, and volunteer organizations. We span Oregon’s urban and rural communities and represent all trail users from urban, multi-use paths to backcountry trails. We include hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, OHV riders, nordic skiers, paddlers, trail runners, mobility device users, and more.
We support legislation to expand a Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge National Recreation Area to improve management, address wildfire risk, enhance recreation, and protect natural resources.
We are grateful to Congressman Blumenauer and Senator Wyden and their staffs for their leadership in forwarding legislative concepts to expand the Mt. Hood National Recreation Area. We want to express our support for this work to enhance sustainable and equitable outdoor recreation on Mt. Hood and in the Gorge. Further protection of and investment in sustainable trails and the associated landscape and infrastructure are critical to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse population and to support community health, climate resilience, and strong local economies.
In addition to the legislative concepts that specifically reference investments in trail planning, sustainability, and stewardship, we also support the inclusion of further investment in wildfire planning, mitigation, and rehabilitation; Wild and Scenic Rivers; ensuring Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights are honored; enhancing public safety (especially through further investment in education and search and rescue;) and enhancing safe, reliable access to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood.
Our vision for trails in an expanded Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge National Recreation Area
As legislative concepts are further developed, we would love to see the following priorities reflected regarding trails development, access, and stewardship.
In the most recent Oregon Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) USFS reported that only 25% of Oregon National Forest trails are currently maintained to agency standards, and approximately 50% of those trails are maintained by partners. We hope the NRA would direct further resources to:
USFS trail crews and USFS partnership coordination staff,
partner contracts and cost share agreements for groups performing both annual and deferred maintenance on National Forest trails, trailhead facilities, bridges, and other trail structures including trail reconstruction, restoration, and rerouting where needed.
We hope NRA legislation would prioritize replacement of failing bridges and other trail structures as well as repairing asphalt trail surfaces and replacing degraded trail signs to maintain accessibility as well as support new trailhead and trail improvements for existing trails such as new restroom facilities, new bridges, etc.
We hope the NRA would include critical transportation system improvements including prioritization of necessary repairs to Forest Service roads providing access to trailheads, campgrounds, and horse camps as well as forwarding partnerships to make the most out of parking permit fees and expand public transit options to ensure the community’s access to their public lands.
We hope to see clear support and benchmarks for design and construction of new trail facilities and/or restoration and modernization of “lost” trails in the system to meet the needs and desires of a growing outdoor recreation community and to address overuse on current facilities. We support more connections to towns and long-distance Gorge and Mt. Hood loop trail visions.
We hope to see design and construction of accessible trails to meet the needs and desires of trail users with a wide range of abilities and trailhead signage that provides Trail Access Information (TAI) for a wide range of existing trails. By accessible trails, we’re not referring solely to paved, ADA accessible trails (though we support the inclusion of those in NRA plans,) but trails that provide a range of experiences, e.g. mountain bike trails designed for adaptive mountain bikes and more benches with companion seating at strategic locations along more trails for increased access for people who may need to stop and rest.
We hope to see support for trail user education, trail ambassador, and wilderness ambassador activities to support public safety, ensure diverse communities feel welcome on their public lands, and support sustainable recreation practices.
We hope coordination with local tribes and indigenous communities leads to further support for treaty rights and tribal priorities, and also informs appropriate renaming of specific recreation sites and further interpretation and education for the broader public to better understand the history of the region and ways for all community members to engage as fellow stewards of the land alongside contemporary indigenous communities.
Considerations for NRA Boundaries
Our coalition partners have expressed the following considerations regarding potential boundaries on the NRA concept map that we would like to echo in our comments:
We are pleased to see the Lolo Pass Road corridor included in the expanded NRA. This is emerging as one of the most important recreation corridors on the mountain, with great potential for new trails and trailheads.
We would like to see the southern boundary of the expanded NRA extended to include the Clackamas Corridor to at least the Collowash confluence. This is especially urgent given the impacts that the 2020 Riverside Fire will have on the trail system in the Clackamas basin.
We would like to see the entirety of the Badger Creek Wilderness included in the expanded NRA to ensure it remains a priority for the Forest Service. Because of the remoteness of this wilderness, it has been difficult for volunteer crews to maintain.
We would like to see the upper Dog River section of The Dalles watershed (which does not drain into the Mill Creek reservoirs) be included in the NRA in recognition of the rapidly growing hiking and mountain biking interest in this area.
We would like to see the area surrounding Timothy Lake included in the NRA. This area features two of Oregon’s most popular horse camps as well as several sought-after family campgrounds. The surrounding trails are heavily used by hikers, backpackers, equestrians, and mountain bike riders.
We would like to see the Olallie Lake Scenic Area included in the NRA boundaries. It is heavily used for many types of recreation and deserves the support provided by an NRA designation.
Considerations for Wilderness Boundaries
While our Trails Coalition partners want to express broad general support for further protections for the Mt. Hood and Columbia Gorge NRA, many of our partners have concerns about how specific proposed Wilderness Area boundaries could negatively impact access to current and planned recreation and stewardship activities. Available maps are somewhat difficult to interpret, making partners generally concerned they could be underestimating the extent to which mountain bike access and stewardship activities dependent on chainsaw use could be lost.
Specific concerns and requests we have heard from our partners include:
Further examination of what resource and landscape protection measures could be utilized in the NRA in place of new Wilderness designations in areas especially important for mountain biking access or mechanized stewardship activities.
Concern that specific proposed Wilderness expansions could result in loss of bicycle access to valued existing and planned trails, when mountain biking trails in the Mt. Hood area are quite limited when compared to the number of residents wishing to participate in mountain bike recreation in this region. Coalition partners do not want to see a net loss of mountain biking opportunities for several years between any new Wilderness Area designation and the potential development of future bike trails in suitable nearby areas. Coalition partners understand that new bike trail development takes years, and high demand exists for these opportunities today.
We encourage congressional offices and the USFS to produce a set of public maps encompassing greater details of the proposed landscape and land designation changes so that stakeholders are able to better understand the impacts of this proposal on trails, trailheads, and recreational systems and provide greater feedback and support.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment and for your leadership in protecting and enhancing public access to this treasured landscape. We look forward to further engaging in this process to partner in forwarding our shared goals.
Oregon Trails Coalition Director