What will the new trail system look like?
Most of the trails that we now enjoy in the Columbia Gorge and around Mount Hood were built in the early 1900s, when trails were the main travel network in the forest. Since then, nearly half the trails in the Mount Hood National Forest have been lost to logging and road building. The Mount Hood National Park proposal would reverse this trend, and double the trail network from what exists on the ground today. Where the old trails were mainly for forest travel, the new system will focus on the public health benefits that trails bring through recreation.
Trail advocates might have a hard time imagining this future, given how hard it is today to simply protect the current system from further decline. But under national park status, the management emphasis would shift away from maintaining the huge network of logging roads and toward restoring a functioning trail system. The new focus would be on trails that meet the needs of a growing region and allow for much more hiking, biking, horseback riding and backpacking.
The following are the trail elements described on the individual proposal maps shown on the main proposal page:
Existing Trails: today's network of trails seems to fit just two categories - crowded and overburdened or fading away from lack of use or maintenance. The first task in rebuilding the trail system is simply to stop the bleeding by rehabilitating overused trails, while improving access and maintenance on the lesser-used, poorly maintained routes. This existing network of trails forms the backbone for expanding the system.
New Trails: the national park proposal calls for many new hiking trails, often restoring routes that once existed, or completing connections similar to those that used to exist. The difference from trails of the past is that the new routes would focus on today's recreational users, with an emphasis on providing the best routes for scenery, comfortable grades for exercise and opportunities for hiking loops. The system would also be designed to provide a wide range of hiking options that meet the varying ability of a wide variety of users.
The new trails would focus on bringing hikers to new destinations that are little-known, and have exceptional scenic and recreational values. The new routes are often focused on campgrounds, allowing weekenders to spend extended visits exploring the system, or making short backpacks into the new park. Trailheads would be deisgned for a level of safety and security that encourages more hiking and backpacking.
Bike Trails: the vast network of deteriorating logging roads in the Mount Hood National Forest provide a unique opportunity to create an unparalleled, world-class network of single and double-track bike routes in the new park.
Bicycle advocates will be quick to note that national parks generally do not allow bicycles on trails today, so this is one of the legislative caveats that will be essential to creating a new Mount Hood National Park. But bicycles are highly compatible with national park management values, and the restoration theme in this proposal is the perfect context for demonstrating how a management liability like an old road network can be rehabilitated to become a recreation asset - just as bike-friendly Oregon is the logical place to demonstrate how bicycles can become part of the national park recreation philosophy.
On the proposal maps, the new bike networks are planned as dense, interconnected systems that will provide a high recreational value with many loop options for cyclists exploring a given area. The system is also designed around campgrounds that would allow for weekender cyclists to have extended biking excursions into the new park.