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‘Reconnecting the Gorge’ films debut amid enthusiasm for Historic Hwy completion

Posted by on July 15th, 2015 at 11:57 am

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 1/6 – From Historic Road to Trail, by Path Less Pedaled

This story was written by Ted Timmons.

A film premiere in northwest Portland last night highlighted one of the most exciting transportation projects the State of Oregon has ever undertaken β€” the re-establishment of the 100-year old Historic Columbia River Highway as a biking and walking-friendly byway that hugs the Gorge far away from the dangers, noise, and exhaust fumes of I-84.

This project started in 1996, but gained a significant boost in 2007 with the birth of the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The 2013 Policymakers’ Ride showed us just how many people are interested in this project.

Photo by Ted Timmons.

Now, thanks to the excellent film making talents of Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of Path Less Pedaled, the interest and enthusiasm are sure to spread even wider.

Last night Travel Oregon and the Friends group hosted an event at Pacific Northwest College of Art to premiere six new short films produced by Path Less Pedaled. The films were created with the aim to educate more people about the project and stoke enthusiasm that will, hopefully, hasten the completion of the project.

Watch the five other films and you’ll see why so many people are excited about this project:

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 2/6 – Shellrock Mountain, by Path Less Pedaled

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 3/6 – The Mossy Road, by Path Less Pedaled

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 4/6 – Last 5 Miles, by Path Less Pedaled

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 5/6 – Mitchell Point Tunnel, by Path Less Pedaled

Reconnecting The Gorge Series 6/6 – Benefiting Communities, by Path Less Pedaled

At the event we learned that a mere ten miles remain before the Historic Highway will reach the full glory it had when it first opened in 1916. Five miles of those have been funded and construction is scheduled to begin this fall. The construction of a period-appropriate viaduct around Shellrock Mountain (PDF) called the Summit Creek Viaduct will begin in late 2016 and be completed in 2018, with an estimated cost of $2.4 million.

The final five miles will be the most difficult and most expensive – a progress report estimated $32 million for this section. Notably, that includes a tunnel through Mitchell Point. Ironically, the original Columbia River Highway included the Mitchell Point Tunnel, which was a tunnel with five “windows” blasted through the rock. Clearly, a replacement tunnel in 2015 will be substantially more expensive than the original in 1915. Even worse, the tunnel was removed to build I-84, leaving behind unstable rock which makes the construction even more difficult. There was audible excitement when it was announced that the replacement tunnel will also have daylighted sections.


Several people spoke about the project at the event last night. To me, the most inspiring was Kathy Fitzpatrick, the city manager of Mosier, Oregon. Mosier is located east of Hood River, which means cycling tourists won’t start arriving until after the entire 10 miles of missing trail are completed. Kathy spoke about how Mosier was in a period of decline after losing steamships (Bonneville Dam), freight and passenger train service, and the Historic Highway. The census illustrates this: Mosier had a population of 340 in 1980 and 244 in 1990. Fitzpatrick talked about Mosier’s pub, coffee shop, and Rack and Cloth, a restaurant and cider house. I can’t wait to visit those places when the trail is completed.

Fitzpatrick also mentioned the concept of a “bike hub” in Mosier and other cities in the Gorge. It’s a brilliant idea β€” kiosks where cyclists can access tools, see a map of local amenities, relax, and perhaps recharge a cell phone. Metro gave a grant of $50,000 for the Gorge Hubs earlier this year.

On a somber note, the importance of completing the Historic Highway was underscored last year when Ellen Dittebrandt was killed in a collision while she cycled on the shoulder of I-84. When the Historic Highway is completed, people won’t be forced into that dangerous situation.

β€” To learn more about this project, see ODOT’s HCRH Plans and Reports, information at Friends of HCRH, and previous BikePortland coverage.

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  • Jeremy Kitchen July 15, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks for the report! I as well can’t wait to visit Mosier and all of the other towns along the trail. I’ve ridden out to Cascade Locks but haven’t been past that. Looking forward to riding all the way to The Dalles some day!

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  • Zach H July 15, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I agree, it was really great to hear Kathy Fitzpatrick from Mosier speak last night. So much heart and soul. We need more proponents like her for these projects!

    To have this and the Salmonberry Corridor completed really will give us, as the Mayor of Hood River said in the videos, world class bicycling, routes worthy enough for folks to plan an international vacation around. To be able to ride on low stress trails, scenic bikeways through the Willamette Valley, & neighborhood greenways through Portland, to be able to go all the way from the coast to the heart of the Gorge — now that’d be cool!

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  • Dan July 15, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    This route would be more interesting to me if they completely removed cars from it.

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  • Matt F July 15, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    can’t wait til this is completed! just great

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  • Alex Reed July 15, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Not to be a downer, but this feels so close and yet so far from being a huge tourism draw (and awesome recreational facility for a large swathe of the Portland area). Currently, it’ll be a nice place, somewhere in the top 100 places in the U.S. for the <1% (guess) of Americans who are comfortable and like riding on fairly busy, high-speed roads (like the HCRH through Corbett) and are traveling solely with other people who would find it fun to do so.

    With 8-80 facilities extended from the Gresham MAX to the start of the real MUP (and ideally not including climbing the Corbett Hill), this would be easily in the top 10 places in the U.S. for the ~10% (guess) of Americans who would find it fun to ride ~30 miles a day if it's in a really beautiful place with other draws. I think this would be close to the tourism draw of biking the Golden Gate, especially if river cruise service were expanded for the return trip.

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    • Champs July 15, 2015 at 6:58 pm

      I don’t think facilities are so much a deterrent for the 99% so much as the distance between waypoints. At the rail/freeway grade it’s eight miles from Troutdale to *anything* and eleven to Bridal Veil. On the HCRH, where views of the Gorge are kind of the point, add elevation change.

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      • Alex Reed July 15, 2015 at 7:14 pm

        Yeah, it would need significant developments (like at least a restaurant in Bridal Veil). I was imagining it not climbing the Corbett Hill, but the close proximity of I-84 in the new (imaginary) section along the river would probably permanently limit its mass appeal.

        N.B. Riding the Golden Gate in San Francisco is 8 miles (w ferry from Sausalito) and extremely popular, so mass-market tourists can be induced to bike that far, at least πŸ™‚ But you’re right that there is a giant difference between 8 miles and 30 miles.

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  • Adam July 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I am so excited this is moving forward some more!! The day I can bike house in Portland to Hood River, or the Salle’s, rent a room in a local hotel or B&B, then bike back, will be BLISS!

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  • Mike Sanders July 15, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    A standing “O” should go to everyone involved in getting this project to this point! Connecting the Gorge Trail to the PDX area system (Springwater, etc) should be the next step. These videos should be passed on to Rails to Trails Conservancy & Adventure Cycling Facebook pages and website blogs! Great stuff!

    These should be on DVD, too. May I suggest partnering with OPB to create a worthy DVD package?

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  • ethan July 16, 2015 at 9:50 am

    After this trail is 100% complete, won’t part of it still be on the highway shoulder?

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    • Barry Cochran July 16, 2015 at 10:06 am

      I also have this question. And what will those highway sections look like? I don’t object to riding on the highway shoulder for short stretches, but I’m not riding there if if the shoulder is too narrow or unmaintained for me to feel safe. At least not at this stage of my development as a bicyclist. That being said, this seems like an awesome project overall!

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      • ethan July 16, 2015 at 10:31 am

        Yeah, I won’t be riding on the shoulder of I84. I see the way people drive out there. They will literally kill me.

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    • Alan 1.0 July 16, 2015 at 11:46 am

      After this trail is 100% complete, won’t part of it still be on the highway shoulder?

      Highway yes (, freeway no. Three segments are and will be car-free:

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  • Glenn July 16, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Connectivity is vital. I live on the Olympic Peninsula, and I’d love to ride this when it’s complete. But it’s not worth it for me anytime before then.

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  • Kathy Fitzpatrick July 28, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Many thanks to Ted Timmons for this story and for posting the videos. The reconnection of our amazing Historic Columbia River Highway has been an ODOT priority for many years, and if you think I am passionate about this world-class biking trail, you need to meet some of the folks at ODOT and Oregon State Parks who have invested their careers in making this a reality for us all! They were the ones who commissioned the truly inspired Path Less Pedaled film makers to create this video series.

    Please pass the videos on to your bike families. Public knowledge and demand will ultimately give us the momentum we need to finish this great project.

    Now get on your bike and come visit Mosier!

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  • Rick Goodwin April 30, 2016 at 9:09 am

    I cannot wait for this to be completed. I have ridden from Hood River to The Dalles. It is a great ride. I am planning on doing it again this spring. When the rest of the trail is completed I am hoping to be there the weekend it opens. It is very exciting news. Yes the plan is to ride from Troutdale to The Dalles. Might take me all weekend to do it but I don’t care. Ride safe and enjoy the beauty of it.

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