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Clear sky opportunities: Things to do now that smoke has lifted in Gorge

U.S. Forest Service provided this image to msn.com that makes it look like this Gorge waterfall and others like it are open and available, when they are not.


U.S. Forest Service provided this image to msn.com that makes it look like this Gorge waterfall and others like it are open and available, when they are not.

Cancelled school and community events, and a general limitation of activity in the Gorge have been the norm since Sept. 2, thanks to the Eagle Creek fire.

While the fire situation remains damaging and dangerous, it appears that thanks to cooler temperatures and a few days of rain, smoke conditions are far less serious, allowing people back outside with less fear of the impacts of smoke.

Here are three events this week to help celebrate the return to clearer skies:

•Skip Sparks Invitational cross country meet, Sept. 20 — Your one and only chance to see the 2017 Hood River Valley High School teams compete on their home course, starting at 4 p.m.

at Henderson Stadium. In Hood River, cross country is a spectator sport: the course is planned so that the start, crucial mid-course sections, and the finish are all visible either from the stands or nearby at the stadium and school grounds.

•Annual Hood River Saddle Club Spaghetti Feed, Sept. 22, 5-8 p.m. at Hood River Saddle Club — see Happenings for details.

•Hood River Elks Oktoberfest, Sept. 23, 5-10 p.m., Third and Cascade, in the parking lot, open to the community and family-friendly. Beer, music, costume contest and more; see page B3 for details in our “Pick of the Week.”

Untimely publicity

Hood River has never “shut down” during the Eagle Creek fire, but the freeway and Historic Highway have been. However, what does remain closed are the scenic trails to the vistas, lakes and waterfalls of the Gorge; with few exceptions, those recreational assets will remain closed for some time due to ongoing fire suppression efforts and devastating damage.

This made the latest in a string of Gorge “best of” lists on the Internet weirdly ill-timed.

Last week the online list “50 States of Unbelievable Tourist Attractions” appeared on msn.com, with the Columbia River Gorge having that singular distinction in Oregon. With an image of a verdant waterfall (courtesy of U.S. Forest Service) came the words, “The views at this Hood River canyon (sic) are so beautiful, you might not believe they're real.”

Granted, travel writing can serve the “ideas for next year’s vacation” role, but if the “Unbelievable Tourist Attractions” list compels even a few late-summer travelers to pick up and head to the Gorge, it is likely to create some disappointment.

This September in the western Gorge is not the time to be directing out-of-towners to the waterfalls and scenic areas, for their own safety and for the simple fact that no one is allowed into those areas. As of last week, the freeway to take them there was closed. It’s not that the waterfall and trails are all damaged; some are not. But they are closed.

The page includes a link to Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, which plays up the “Ready, Set Gorge” campaign, directing visitors to any number of attractions through the entire Gorge. There are plenty of things to see in the Gorge, despite the fire.

And while the scenic area website lacks a conspicuous headline about Eagle Creek causing closures, it does contain information and maps about the fire, while adding:

“The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area protects the spectacular canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountains — with cliffs and overlooks of Washington to the north and Oregon's mountains and waterfalls to the south. The Gorge is unique in its natural and cultural history, as well as its designation as a National Scenic Area.”

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