Hikers flock to Washington side of Gorge as Oregon trails remain - KPTV - FOX 12

Hikers flock to Washington side of Gorge as Oregon trails remain closed

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As most of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge trails remain closed following the massive Eagle Creek Fire, the Washington side of the popular recreation area is already feeling the squeeze -- in what could be just a small taste of the summer crowds to come.

“All the trailheads right now are really at capacity on nice days,” said Renee Tkach, a project manager with Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

On Tuesday, several visitors to Beacon Rock State Park told FOX 12 they don’t have much experience in the area, and typically recreate on the Oregon side of the Gorge.

Because of the closures, many now plan to make the Washington side their summer playground.

“We’re just looking to enjoy the scenery, whichever side we can get it on,” said hiker Anthony Klucas.

Climber Scott McKowen said the area seemed busy for a Tuesday.

“I’m assuming it’s because of the fires,” McKowen said. “That’s why we’re here, I wouldn’t have come over here if it wasn’t for that.”

The Forest Service, Washington State Parks and trail advocates said they expected the influx, and are definitely noticing the large crowds that typically would be unusual this time of year. And it’s already taking a toll -- particularly on parking lots, and the improvised ones: the shoulders of State Route 14 have become a popular spot to leave cars.

“It’s a public safety problem,” said Washington State Patrol spokesman Will Finn. “You can only park on the shoulder during an emergency, otherwise you can get a ticket or get towed.”

Finn said WSP and area partners, like Washington State Parks and the Skamania County Sheriff, are still coordinating how they’ll respond to and manage the problem.

One solution was put in place last year, and hiking advocates expect it will be even busier this summer. A shuttle service ran by Skamania County drops hikers off at Dog Mountain, a Forest Service area with limited parking.

To ease crowding, the Forest Service also recently implemented a permitting system at Dog Mountain for weekend use.

Those who ride the shuttle to the trailhead automatically get a permit with their $2 round-trip ticket.

The permits will be required through the peak of wildflower season and will be lifted July 1.

Heath Yeats, an area manager for Washington State Parks, said a couple of extra seasonal staff have been hired to help with the influx of visitors to Beacon Rock State Park.

Anyone who wants to visit Beacon Rock State Park or other state-run trails, Yeats suggests they come earlier than 11 a.m., especially on weekends.

He also advises people to plan trips to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Hood, to better avoid crowds.

For more information about shuttle services and other Gorge travel and hiking tips, visit https://gorgefriends.org/ and https://www.columbiagorgecarfree.com/

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