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Hiking bootleg trails along the Columbia

Posted by Andrew Engelson at May 09, 2006 05:00 PM |

When most people talk about visiting the Columbia River Gorge, they're talking about the Oregon side. And for good reason--there's an abundance of spectacular waterfalls and great hikes on the far side of the Columbia.

But part of the reason the Washington side gets neglected is that the north side doesn't have as extensive a system of trails as the south side.

That situation is changing, however. This spring, WTA has been on building new connector trails at Beacon Rock state park, for example. And this article in the Vancouver Columbian describes a new 7.8-mile trail at Cape Horn, about 26 miles east of Vancouver. The area also benefited from a recent land acquisition by the Friends of the Gorge Land Trust, a Portland-based fund dedicated to preserving the Columbia Gorge.

Cape HornThe Cape Horn trail poses an interesting dilemma for the U.S. Forest Service, whose land the trail is located on. The trail is a "user-built" trail, and that means that no official environmental analysis or trail construction planning went into the route. Some would argue that's just fine, while others (including some in the Forest Service) are concerned some sections may not be up to standard. I've never visited Cape Horn, but the pictures accompanying the story are enough to tempt me (the trail threads behind a waterfall, which seems really cool).

User-built "bootleg" trails are an ongoing controversy: some believe it's the only way to get new trails built (in fact many established trails in the Issaquah Alps began as bootlegs). Others are nervous that bootleg trails aren't well designed and could encroach on shrinking wildlife habitat.

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Photo of the Columbia seen from Cape Horn by Craig Romano.