Wednesday, September 25, 2013/lk
In 2007, a year before she passed away, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Founder Nancy Russell purchased a 42-acre parcel of land east of Mosier overlooking the Gorge and donated it to the nonprofit she helped form nearly 30 years prior.
Six years later, that windswept section of the Mosier Plateau Russell sought to preserve is still free of development and now sports a new out-and-back hiking trail that will officially open this week for the public to enjoy.
A tour of the 2.5-mile Mosier Plateau and Pocket Park Trail will kick off at Ground Central Coffee Station at 1104 First St. in Mosier this Friday at 2:30 p.m. to celebrate the opening of a trail that has been in the making for nearly three years.
“It seems like this has been going on forever!” said Kate McBride, land trust manager for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, who oversees the acquisitions and management of the trust’s lands.
All the efforts of volunteers and donors who help made the vision of the trail a reality, though, have finally paid off. The trail starts just east of the Mosier Creek bridge on Highway 30 and winds along the east banks of Mosier Creek in the city’s Pocket Park before turning east to carry users over a packed-earth switchback that leads to the top of the plateau, where an overlook offers hikers panoramic views of the Gorge and the Mosier Valley.
Length: 2.5 miles
Style: Out and back
Hazards: Ticks, poison oak; like other eastern Gorge trails, rattlesnake sightings are a possibility
Restrictions: No motorized vehicles, horses, or bicycles. No smoking, fires, or hunting.
Trailhead: Park at totem pole on U.S. 30 in downtown Mosier and walk to trailhead located just east of Mosier Creek bridge.
“In the spring when everything is blooming back in the cherry orchards in the valley you have a view in both directions,” McBride noted. “It’s great. We strategically placed this so you could look both ways.”
McBride and other members of Friends began the trail planning process nearly three years ago, but McBride knew the Mosier Plateau was worthy of preservation long before. Growing up in Odell, McBride would often travel to her grandparents’ house in Mosier, which resided in the shadow of the plateau. McBride fondly remembers the many days she spent trudging up the hill to the top of the grassy plateau with her grandfather to view the wildflowers in the springtime.
“This is where I hiked when I was growing up,” she said. “I knew this area like the back of my hand.”
In February 2011, McBride, Friends Executive Director Kevin Gorman and Friends Field Representative Peter Cornelison first approached the city of Mosier about creating a trail that would connect the city park to the plateau.
“We took Kathy Fitzpatrick, who was on (Mosier) City Council at the time and Andrea Rogers, who’s the mayor of Mosier, out on an exploratory hike and came down the back side (of the plateau) and said ‘What do you think?’” McBride recalled. “‘Do you think the council would like this? Do you think the townspeople would want it?’”
McBride described the city as “enthused” about the plan, but unable put the money up to fund it. There was also another problem: A tiny sliver of private land bisected the city and land trust properties, making the connection impossible.
According to information provided by Friends, the individuals who owned the sliver in question, David and Lavonne Povey, were the same people who donated 3.8 acres of their land to the city of Mosier in 2003 to help create Pocket Park. When approached by Friends, the Poveys graciously granted a one-year trial trail license — which McBride described as a kind of temporary easement — so that the trail could continue through their property and link Pocket Park to the Plateau.
“That was the only way we could get to land trust property,” McBride noted, who said the renewal of the trail licensure will hinge on the Poveys’ positive assessment of Friends’ stewardship of the trail connection.
With the land acquisitions squared away and a conditional use permit from Wasco County in hand, Friends were ready to start building trail in October 2011 — a process McBride said has gone through fits and starts.
“You can’t (build trails) in the middle of summer because of the fire danger and you can’t do it when it’s too wet, which would be February and March,” she explained, “so there’s only certain times of year you can really work well out here, to do certain things.”
Friends relied on help from volunteer groups such as Trail Keepers of Oregon and Washington Trails Association to assist with the work as well as private contracting companies. Daryl Hoyt and Krista Thie from Twin Oaks Construction in White Salmon did a large portion of the work on the trail, including the construction of the viewpoint.
Northwest Youth Corps, a nonprofit outdoor program located in The Dalles, helped build the switchback and stairs that connect Pocket Park to Mosier Plateau, but it almost didn’t happen. McBride said that once again, generous souls stepped in to make sure the trail stayed on track.
“We applied for Northwest Youth Corps to do the work, but because of the sequester, they were only able to fund four or five different groups instead of eight,” McBride explained, “so we had a donor member of our organization who lives in the Tri Cities fund Northwest Youth Corps to finish the section.”
The five teenagers from Northwest Youth Corps arrived in June to complete the last half-mile of trail and two sets of stairs on the steep southern slope of the plateau, starting at 6 a.m. in order to avoid the sweltering summer temperatures as much as possible. After five weeks, their work was done.
Though the trail is opening at the start of fall, spring will be the best time to visit the plateau, according to McBride, when “huge, huge, amounts of wildflowers will be in bloom,” including, lupine, balsam root, shooting stars, grass widows, fiddle necks, and desert parsley — just to name a few. However, she also noted that during the winter, the trail will be a prime location for hikers to watch bald eagles riding the thermals that whistle up the side of the plateau. In the summer, McBride suggested trail users take a dip in the nearby Mosier Creek Pocket swimming hole after finishing their hikes. She also envisioned the plateau to be used as an “outdoor classroom” for Mosier Charter School as it has in the past, where students are led on day hikes to learn about the wildflowers that bloom there in the spring.
The trail is all set for hikers to enjoy, but McBride noted it was still a work in progress. She explained some “tuning” still needs to be completed, and there are plans to possibly create a spur trail down to the swimming hole as well as an alternate access to the small loop located at the east end of the trail, which McBride said was “ADA-grade.”
One item that will not be constructed is a trailhead. Users are directed to park at the totem pole located in the center of Mosier and walk several minutes to the start of the trail at Pocket Park.
“And that’s the idea of Gorge Towns to Trails,” McBride said. “You start in town so that people will park in town and you don’t have to build another trailhead. They’ll be able to use a restaurant, a restroom, and the amenities in town and bring commerce to the town.”
Gorge Towns to Trails was an initiative started by Friends in 2011 that envisions a “comprehensive trail system that wraps around the Columbia Gorge, linking communities with recreation, benefiting tourism, and highlighting and enhancing the beauty and wonder of the area,” according to Friends’ website.
McBride hopes that this vision of a network of trails that link Gorge towns together will one day become a reality. Visible at the terminus of the Mosier Plateau Trail, is another windswept hillside known as the “South 40,” which is also in Friends’ land trust. Though there’s no official trail there yet, McBride dreams that perhaps someday, hikers will be able to walk from Pocket Creek Park, to Mosier Plateau Trail, and then continue on to the South 40 via either U.S. 30 or a trail connector.
“Who knows?” McBride said. “There are lots of possibilities for the future.”