As hikers know, spring wildflowers make this season special at the Gorge. What visitors may not realize is that these wildflowers flourish each year in part thanks to strategic efforts to control noxious weeds, which disrupt the native ecology.
As early as mid-March in recent years, purple grass widow and yellow and white whitlow grass were blooming — but for a short window only, making April and May the best time to visit. While it’s beautiful, one of the biggest problems is that weeds outcompete native species. For example, the yellow star thistle is one non-native that’s spread throughout the Gorge because it has not been contained. That results in a monoculture — a one-species landscape — that lowers the biodiversity and invites problems like wildfires, as is the case with spring cheatgrass — a tall, dead, dry invasive species.
Trails that are recovering from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire are especially susceptible to stowaway seeds if they’re not removed from the bottom of shoes. Newly opened trails include Angels Rest and Wahkeena Falls in Corbett and Horsetail Falls to Ponytail Falls — a 4.4-mile loop just east of Multnomah Falls that includes three waterfalls (Horsetail, Ponytail and Triple falls).
At these trails especially, visitors are should know their limits (especially if hiking with children or pets) and choose an alternative hike during high winds and after heavy rain when there’s a chance of falling trees, flash floods or landslide.
Spring is also the perfect time to sign up for a work party to beautify trails and remove the invasive Himalayan blackberry. All tools are provided, no experience is necessary and carpooling is encouraged.
As more fire-affected trails reopen, visitors looking to make a big impact are also encouraged to sign up for the Trailhead Ambassadors program — a collaboration between Friends of the Gorge, the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Regional Tourism Alliance, Oregon State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service. Volunteers are trained in April and May to answer questions from hikers about trail openings, trail safety, Leave No Trace principles and more.
Trailhead Ambassadors is one of several spring stewardship opportunities planned for the Gorge region and around the state. Just another way to help us all keep Oregon beautiful.
The nonprofit SOLVE organizes dozens of Earth Day cleanups in Oregon. Here are a few in the Gorge.
- Cascade Locks Earth Day cleanup (April 20, 2019): Help pick up litter and remove invasive species at popular visitor destinations including the EasyCLIMB Trail, Blackberry Beach, the Locks Approach Disc Golf Course and Herman Creek Cove.
- Earth Day at Rooster Rock (April 20, 2019):Help replace invasive vegetation with native trees and shrubs. All equipment is provided; ages 16 and up are welcome.
- Earth Day at Helen Althaus Park in Troutdale (April 27, 2019): Help pull invasive weeds and plant native plants, and enjoy lunch provided by SOLVE together after the event. Ages 13 and up are welcome.
If you go:
Consider visiting the Gorge during off-peak times of the day, off-peak days of the week and during shoulder seasons. Start your trip before 10 a.m. to beat the crowds. Travel against the grain, from east to west. If you find a trail is too crowded, head eastward.
Check with U.S. Forest Service for the most up-to-date information on trail closures and conditions before you go.