On a fine early summer morning, scores of travelers in cars and costumes from a bygone era gathered at the Vista House at Crown Point to celebrate a milestone: the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway, known as the “King of Roads,” turned 100 years old.
The historic route was first dedicated on June 7, 1916. Back then, it was called “America’s Greatest Highway;” a novel and monumental asphalt connection from Portland to Pendleton. It was a roadway unlike any in the country and a dream come true for Sam Hill, the highway’s chief backer, and Samuel Lancaster, the chief designer. Together, they constructed a roadway that travels lightly on the landscape while taking people’s breath away with spectacular scenery and adventure.
Today part of the original highway is preserved as a car-free Oregon State Park Trail that is loved by hikers and cyclists. In the spring of 2016, construction crews began building concrete foundations for new rest sites along the trail’s Starvation Creek State Park section. New scenery comes into view along this latest segment of the old highway.
Kristen Stallman, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Transportation, is my guide for the revamped Starvation Creek Trail. She shows great pride and enthusiasm for the 1.2-mile-long restoration project that stretches east from Lindsey Creek to Starvation Creek State Park.
Our first stop is the wispy Cabin Creek Falls.
“It is a waterfall that you cannot see from nearby I-84,” notes Stallman. “That’s the point. You must leave your vehicle behind and take some time to make the short hike to this beauty spot.”
“It will be a quiet oasis,” says Oregon State Parks Manager Kirk Barham. “It is away from the interstate, so the truck and car noise isn’t heard. It will be a place to sit, relax and gaze up to the falls. It’s really a chance to connect present generations and future generations with Oregon’s history.”
Miles of the old abandoned scenic highway have already been restored for non-motorized use the past two decades including the Oneonta Tunnel, the Mosier Twin Tunnels and Viento State Park, where you can explore a mile-long reach of spectacular Gorge scenery.
Stallman added that 60 miles of the old highway have been restored and there’s still 10 more miles to go: “It’s a state trail project that’s full steam ahead!”
This project will undoubtedly fill Oregonians with pride. It will wear down your heels as you build up your soul.
The dedication of the Lindsey Creek to Starvation Creek is slated for September 24, 2016. Before then, many of the state trail sections are open for you to explore anytime.
You can hike the trails, view magnificent waterfalls and vistas, visit welcoming Gorge communities and participate in local events during the Centennial Season of Celebration.