Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

Herculean volunteer effort opens the PCT in the Columbia River Gorge

After 55 volunteer crews from the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter put in nearly 5,000 hours, the Pacific Crest Trail and other nearby trails in the Columbia River Gorge are open to hikers for the first time since the Eagle Creek Fire erupted last fall.

“The work has seemed daunting at times, but many hands have made it possible,” said Roberta Cobb, chair of the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter.

The Eagle Creek fire burned 49,000 acres in the gorge, including 10 miles of the PCT and 90 miles of other trails. Some trails, such as the popular Eagle Creek Trail, remain closed to the public.

Roberta Cobb helped lead the passionate and skilled volunteers of the PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter to quickly reopen the PCT and other trails. Photo by Terry Hill

Roberta Cobb helped lead the passionate and skilled volunteers of the PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter to quickly reopen the PCT and other trails. These are some incredibly skilled and giving volunteers. Photo by Terry Hill

In the aftermath of the fire, volunteers and staff from the PCTA, Trailkeepers of Oregon, Friends of Columbia Gorge and Washington Trails Association quickly formed the Gorge Trails Recovery Team. Last October, the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter began training volunteers for the massive effort they knew they would need to re-open the PCT. The first PCTA crew entered the burn area with the U.S. Forest Service on the PCT just south of Cascade Locks on Jan. 17.

Over many months, PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteers tackled a huge number of projects in the burn area. Here they are on just one of the massive logs that they cleared off of the Gorge's trails. Photo by Terry Hill

Over many months, PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteers tackled a huge number of projects in the burn area. Here they are on one of the massive logs that they cleared from trails in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Terry Hill

Long days, steep hills, and hard work.

Working in a burn area presents tough challenges. In addition to steep hiking and long days required for any crew working in the Columbia River Gorge, volunteers had to contend with fire-caused hazards such as loose rock and soil, burned branches that could fall and underground voids left by burned tree roots.

Volunteers removed 210 logs from the PCT and nearby trails. Despite their best effort, their saws dulled from the charred wood. The PCTA is very lucky to have strong volunteer crew leaders, who have both the technical skills to get the work done and the ability to keep their crews safe in these challenging conditions.

Trail work is always a team effort. Reopening the PCT in the burn area has been a passion project for so many of our volunteers. We're proud folks. Photo by Terry Hill

Trail work is always a team effort. Reopening the PCT in the burn area has been a passion project for so many of our volunteers. We’re proud folks. Photo by Terry Hill

Cheers to you!

The PCTA is very grateful for all the volunteers and partners at the U.S. Forest Service for getting the trail open so quickly. Many volunteers took days off work to help. Frank Jahn, a volunteer crew leader extraordinaire, often led three or four crews a week to clear rocks and limbs from the trails. After long days on the trail, many satisfied and sooty volunteers visited Thunder Island Brewing in Cascades Locks to enjoy delicious beverages, which the brewery donated!

On the whole, the Eagle Creek Fire was probably pretty healthy for the forest. Many areas burned at medium intensity. And the fire burned in a patchwork that will add diversity to the forest. Photo by PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteer Terry Hill

On the whole, the Eagle Creek Fire was probably pretty healthy for the forest. Many areas burned at medium intensity, in a patchwork that will add diversity to the forest. Photo by PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteer Terry Hill

“I’m very grateful for the excellent working relationship with our agency partners, specifically Dawn Stender with the Forest Service,” Roberta said. “We’ve been able to get to work faster and work as a team on the ground with the Forest Service folks from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and it’s been a delight.”

Tackling yet another log and feeling great about it! Photo from the South Benson Plateau in June 2018. Thanks to Kristi Kose for the photo.

Tackling yet another log and feeling great about it! Photo from the South Benson Plateau in June 2018. Thanks to Kristi Kose for the photo.

The recovery continues

Even though the PCT is open, much work remains, and the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter hopes that volunteers will be just as eager to join crews as when the trail was closed. A new PCTA Crew Leader, Max Martin, has been hired to continue to lead crews in the Gorge, thanks to a grant from the National Forest Foundation.

PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteers are out there in rain and snow. It's just too much fun, and there's too much work to be done to stay at home. Photo by Hilary R.

PCTA Mt. Hood Chapter volunteers are out there in cold, rain and snow. We’re used to it. It’s just too much fun and there’s too much work to be done to stay at home. Photo by Hilary R.

Though Mount Hood Chapter volunteers have focused much of their time this year in the burn area, they haven’t neglected other parts of the PCT, they’ve contributed more than 12,500 hours so far this year. They help maintain 250 miles of the PCT and feeder trails, from just south of the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington to Breitenbush Lake north of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon. Find out how you can get involved!

Author: Emily Bauska

Emily Bauska is the PCTA’s Volunteer Programs Outreach Associate. She is excited about sharing the stories of the hard-working volunteers who maintain the Pacific Crest Trail. Emily grew up hiking in her native state of Oregon and completed a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevada in 2013. When not on the trail, you can find her bicycling or tending to her vegetable garden.