: Laura Arbo

What to Know About Oregon’s Wildfire-Impacted Areas

March 12, 2021

Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.

Top Things to Know:

  • Know the impacted areas
  • Respect closures
  • Stay on the trail
  • Show your support

With sunnier days on the horizon, you might start planning your next outdoor adventure in Oregon’s public spaces — just know there will be some differences this year. In addition to COVID-19 precautions, keep in mind that some outdoor destinations across the state will be closed or partially closed due to the impacts from unprecedented wildfires in 2020. Burned areas take time to recover. They also include many hidden dangers to visitors. 

“The scale of impacted areas has never been this large before,” says Jo Niehaus, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. “People will be curious about places they’re used to going and what it looks like after a fire. But it’s not worth putting yourself at risk. If you do go out there and get injured or lost, getting recovery resources out there will be more difficult than a regular setting.” 

With everyone’s help, these natural areas will regenerate and reopen in years to come. Here’s what to know before you venture out. 

A mountain biker pedals past burned trees and purple wildflowers.
Wildfires are a natural occurrence on the landscape, but natural areas need time to recover. (Photo by Leslie Kehmeier / thewideeyedworld.com)

Do Your Research

Understand which public lands are closed and find alternative places to visit.

Oregon’s public lands and waterways are managed by a network of agencies that share in the task of keeping them safe, beautiful and protected for generations to come. They also have different rules for visiting. Some may allow pets; some may require permits to visit; some may have reduced hours or limited visitor services, such as restrooms and drinking water. It’s important to know who manages the land you intend to visit — whether it’s the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, or another agency. At all of Oregon’s public lands, face coverings and 6 feet of physical distancing are required. 

Before you go, check the travel alerts of your destination. This updated Oregon Recreation Site Status Map shows whether an outdoor recreation site is open, closed or has reduced services. If your destination closed, look for an alternate site to visit. Making memories at a new trail, campground or waterway is a great way to broaden your pool of Oregon adventure spots. You can take heart knowing that while you’re away, the burned areas are taking the time to recover, regrow and open up new types of geology and ecological habitat. 

For the fire-damaged areas that reopened, expect a changed experience out on the landscape. This could include hard-to-navigate stands of burned trees or eroded slopes that lack signage or are missing sections of trail.

A hiker walks between burned trees on an otherwise lush trail.
Near Cascade Locks, Dry Creek Falls Trail reopened after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire with burned trees visible along the trail. (Photo by Brooke Weeber)

Respect Closures

Your compliance (and patience) will help recovery efforts.

Wildfire recovery takes time and patience, but Oregon is resilient. Areas are closed for your safety and to protect the animals who live there. 

“If the area is closed, it’s closed,” says Niehaus. “That may be due to habitat restoration, hazardous trees or other hidden dangers that could harm you and your family. It could be due to reconstruction work underway, and your access will impact the work being done. It’s important you abide by the closures and follow Take Care Out There practices.” 

Even some reopened areas present risks. For example, the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge took three years to reopen after the 2017 wildfire. Two weeks after reopening in January 2021, it temporarily closed again due to erosion damage from heavy rainstorms. Eventually, burned areas will recover and be stunning places to visit once again.

Wildfires are a natural occurrence on the landscape, but natural areas impacted by the 2020 wildfires may take many years to recover due to the severity and size. Agency partners are assessing the impacts and integrating long-term resilience into the recovery efforts.

Wherever you do visit, be aware and be patient. There may be route detours due to downed trees or construction crews. Also keep your eyes open for any culturally significant artifacts that may have become unearthed by flooding, and don’t disturb it. If you do find anything that might be significant, contact the Oregon Heritage State Historic Preservation Office.  

A sign reads "Stay on the Trail" with a BLM logo.
Follow the designated trails to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. (Photo by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington, Burns District)

Stay on the Trail

Follow designated trails for the safety of you and the land.

Landscapes and waterways may look different and pose hidden dangers. Keep pets leashed and stick to marked trails. By doing so, you’ll avoid getting lost. You’ll also be letting the natural areas develop without adding to soil erosion. And you’ll be letting seedlings grow in areas where they need to be left alone to thrive. 

Other common-sense measures apply as well but are even more important this season because emergency services are limited, and COVID-19 safety practices are also in place.

“To be safe when you go out, make sure you know where you’re going,” Niehaus says. “It’s always good to have a buddy. Have a Plan B in case it’s too crowded.”

If you need to step off the trail temporarily to allow for safe passing by other hikers, tread lightly. 

Four people wear masks and hard hats at a trail.
Statewide networks like Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) organize volunteer opportunities at wildfire-impacted areas. (Photo by Josh Durham)

Show Your Support

Consider pitching in to assist impacted communities.

Look for opportunities to help these communities rebuild — volunteer, donate and shop local. 

Nearly all of today’s hiking trails were built more than 80 years ago, and almost all of them are maintained by volunteers, including the statewide network Trailkeepers of Oregon. Locals or visitors can sign up to join a trail party, be a trail ambassador, join their Trailkeepers University program or donate funds to help with restoration efforts. 

To support the McKenzie River area in particular, you can sign up to help plant trees, restore a watershed, remove invasive species, work in a native-plant nursery or help with more efforts organized by the McKenzie River Trust. 

If litter removal is your thing, SOLVE holds events statewide year-round inviting volunteers to help beautify trails, parks, beaches, creeks and downtown streets. You can also help with planting efforts to restore habitat for salmon and wildlife. Volunteers at all events must wear face coverings and maintain 6 feet of physical distance.

You can lend a hand with your pocketbook, too. Oregon Parks Forever is raising money to plant at least 1 million trees to ensure these burned areas will be lush once again. Up to $50,000 in donations will be matched by Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s.

We’ll have the opportunity to reimagine the connections between communities and their public lands and waterways in the years to come. Your continued support now and in the future will make a difference.

About The

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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