Horn of discovery

Lower portion of Cape Horn Trail opens July 16

The Cape Horn Trail’s 7.7-mile loop offers spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge. Hike through fir, maple, alder and oak forests, over creeks, along cliffs and under a waterfall. The lower trail, closed for native peregrine falcon nesting, re-opens July 16. Buy this photo

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Cape Horn Conservancy President Teresa Robbins, board member Larry Keister and Friends of the Columbia Gorge Secretary Keith Brown stand on a new set of stairs leading hikers out of the Cape Horn Trail. The log curbs, fabric underneath and gravel on top prevent the build up of mud.

Upcoming work parties on Cape Horn Trail

• Saturday and Tuesday, July 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• To volunteer, e-mail capehornconservan...

• Hard hats, tools and safety demonstrations are provided

• The upper and lower trail head is located across the Skamania County Transit Park & Ride parking lot on Salmon Falls Road, near milepost 26 on State Route 14

• For more information, visit www.capehorntrail...

One step at a time, the Cape Horn Trail is changing.

“When hikers see us working on the trail, they are always so appreciative,” said Cape Horn Conservancy President Teresa Robbins. “People tell us this is their favorite hike in the Gorge. That’s our goal. We want to be number-one.”

A section within the lower trail has been closed since February to allow native peregrine falcons to nest. It re-opens to hikers July 16.

“It’s always fun seeing people using the trail and enjoying it,” said board member Larry Keister. “This is where we like to be.”

As Robbins talks about improvements to the 7.7-mile loop spanning through Washougal and Stevenson, she stops to pick up cigarette butts, clear branches off the path and fetch a jar of peanut butter out of a creek.

“Sorry,” she said. “This is my life.”

Vandalism has become an ongoing problem along the trail. Cigarettes, cans, bottles and trash have been left behind at access points. Trail directory signs have been bent or ripped out of the ground. Graffiti has been spotted on trees and in the pedestrian tunnels.

Keister said police officers and forest service members are out on the trail hoping to prevent more vandalism and bonfires. He encourages members of the community to join the volunteer effort in preserving the trail.

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A group of volunteers, including four students from the Interact Club at Washougal High School, installed a new hitching post for horseback riders near the Nancy Russell Overlook.

“The more young people we can get out to work on this trail, the more they will appreciate it,” Keister said. “The Cape Horn Trail is an example that this kind of group effort can be done. It doesn’t just happen. It’s all about collaboration. That’s how this came to be.”

Hikers exploring the lower Cape Horn Trail will step foot on a safer route that bypasses the home of the Larch Mountain salamanders. Keith Brown, secretary for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said it took about three years for volunteers to scout the new route and carve it out through the rocky cliffs along the Columbia River. The reroute opened just a few weeks before the lower trail was closed, so many hikers have not seen it yet. The new route also eliminates the narrow downhill and uphill switchback sections assembled on loose rocks.

“Not only is it safer for the hikers, but we also didn’t lose any of our viewpoints,” Keister said. “The Larch Mountain salamanders exist in the talus slope, the moss and the rocks. They have that whole part to themselves and will no longer be disturbed.”

In November 2013, 28 voluntees came together and planted 600 native trees and shrubs along the trail. The group included neighbors, students, conservationists, climbers, hikers and retirees from Camas, Washougal, Stevenson, White Salmon, Vancouver, Ridgefield and Portland, Ore. This project was made possible by a National Forest Foundation stewardship grant.

More volunteers came in the spring to find new homes for plants around the Nancy Russell Overlook. They hauled rock, sand and gravel to prepare a suitable habitat for roots to grow. They also constructed a hitching post near the basalt overlook for horseback riders.

“The people we have come out here are so fun to be around, and I’m surprised by how hard they work,” Robbins said. “At the end of the day, it feels like you have done something worthwhile.”

Community members are invited to Cape Horn Conservancy work parties along the trail. Robbins said they provide volunteers with hard hats, tools and safety demonstrations.

“Rule number one is safety. Rule number two is to have fun. And, maybe we can get some work done too,” she said. “We want people to feel a sense of ownership with the trail.”

The Cape Horn Trail evolves because of the partnership between the Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington Trails Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge. Robbins said these collaborations are important in the development of current and future Washougal to Stevenson trails.

“Volunteers need to have a vision, they need to feel a sense of accomplishment and they need to be inspired,” she said. “The Washougal to Stevenson corridor is the perfect place. There are all kinds of beautiful cliffs, waterfalls and wildflowers.”