Towns to Trails: Creating a 200-mile loop trail in the Columbia River Gorge

The Mosier Plateau is a major draw for hikers and visitors on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. (Friends of the Gorge)

In the not too distant future, visitors to the Columbia River Gorge will be able to do all or part of a 200-mile loop trail that connects wineries, breweries, lodging and restaurants.

It's called Towns to Trails. One of the gateway communities on the Washington side of the Gorge is Washougal, where a shiny new trail will be a departure point.

Day hiking is already a very popular activity in the Gorge, but the nonprofit group Friends of the Gorge decided about 6 years ago to link existing and new trails together. The recently completed Washougal Waterfront Park will be an anchor point for the trail at the Gorge's west end.

“The opportunity for international and world class traveling is to be able to land at Portland International Airport and to be able to hit one of these gateway communities, and then hike east to the next town ...,” said Friends of the Gorge spokeswoman, Renee Tkach. "The idea is not to have that big backpack on your back any longer. It's something where you have a daypack so you're packing just something you need for your day essentials.”

Tkach says about 90 percent of Towns to Trails corridors from Washougal to Stevenson are nearly complete. Washougal City Councilor Paul Greenlee says the idea makes good sense.

“The particular advantage of tourism is you don't have to build more houses to make it happen. You don't need more sewage capacity, you don't need all those infrastructure costs, which are so huge,” he said.

Greenlee said the city is working to find the money to extend the trail that runs east from the new park across a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer-maintained dike past Captain Clark Park and onto the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“Our city logo is ‘Gateway to the Gorge,’ and we'd like to be able to create the situation where the people would come and stay the night, eat in one of our restaurants, enjoy one of our craft brews,” Greenlee said.

Ultimately, the Towns to Trails project will encourage visitors to check out the towns, farms, wineries and wild areas. The plan is also part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area's management plan.

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