COLUMBIA GORGE — The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) joined the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and partners on August 3rd to dedicate the newest segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
More than 200 people, including bicyclists, hikers, and folks driving old-timey cars joined in the celebration at the Wyeth Trailhead, right off Interstate 84’s exit 51. This westernmost point on the new three-mile trail segment offers a water stop, a bicycle repair station, and rest rooms.
“I’m pleased to announce the opening of the recently completed Wyeth to Lindsay Creek section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail,” said Rian Windsheimer, ODOT Region 1 manager, which includes the Portland area and the Columbia River Gorge. “As it grows, the trail improves access for all of us who want to experience the Gorge by biking and hiking, not at 65 mph. This opening takes us a long way toward reaching our goal of connecting all 73 miles between Troutdale and The Dalles.”
Located between Cascade Locks and Hood River, the trail provides scenic views in addition to safe accessible passage around Shellrock Mountain, where I-84’s shoulder is narrowest. On its west end, the new trail connects to existing trail segments linking Starvation Creek and Viento State Park, creating six miles of car-free trail.
In the early 1950s, many miles of the old Columbia River Highway were abandoned, and in some cases, destroyed to make way for Interstate 84. Congressional passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act in 1986 motivated the Oregon Legislature to commit to restoring the entire Historic Highway to its glory days of the 1920s.
With the new segment open, project partners have reconnected 68 of the original 73 miles, leaving five miles remaining to complete restoration from Troutdale to The Dalles. Engineering is now under way for the remaining five miles, which will include the new Mitchell Point Crossing.
Mitchell Point Crossing
The new Mitchell Point Crossing will echo one of the most distinctive and recognizable features found on the old highway. Mitchell Point was the site of a tunnel with five arched windows overlooking the Columbia River. It opened in 1915 and closed in 1953 because it could no longer accommodate higher traffic volumes, because of the increasing size of vehicles and because of growing rockfall hazards. In 1966, the tunnel was removed altogether to make way for what is now Interstate 84.
Earlier this year, the Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed a new 800-foot tunnel with five arched windows reminiscent of the old tunnel. Construction could begin by 2021.
When complete, the Historic Highway will include 51 miles of roadway shared by vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, managed by ODOT. Another 22 miles will be accessible only by people walking, rolling or biking, sections known as the Historic Highway State Trail and managed by OPRD.
“What we have now is a set of day hikes and bike rides through the Gorge,” said Arthur Babitz, chair of the Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and former mayor of Hood River. “Each of the sections of the Historic Highway that have been restored so far have been extremely popular. But when you connect them all together, it will be transformative, creating a world-class destination for multi-day trips. This is a situation where the whole is really greater than a sum of its parts.”
The route will draw visitors— including cyclists and trekkers—from around the globe who can experience the spectacular Columbia River Gorge the way it was meant to be seen—from beautiful vistas, next to cascading waterfalls and inside basalt tunnels—all while visiting the welcoming towns along the way.
Engineering is under way for the remaining five miles, which will include the new Mitchell Point Crossing.
“The Historic Highway State Trail is a treasure for Oregonians and visitors alike,” said Todd Davidson, Travel Oregon CEO. “These world-class infrastructure projects enhance the Oregon experience and positively impact the economies in the communities surrounding the trail.”
Learn more at: www.historichighway.org
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