If you go
Upcoming Chinook Trail Association work parties:
• 9 a.m. Saturday at the Rock Creek Campground; see www.dnr.wa.gov/event/rock-creek-spring-clean
• 9 a.m. June 4 at the Tarbell Trail picnic area.
More information: Call Evan Hull at 360-513-6000.
The Chinook Trail Association is learning that the mantra “if you build it, they will come” isn’t so simple.
After working for 27 years to create a 300-mile hiking loop through the Columbia River Gorge, the organization needs to let more hikers know that the trail system is ready to use, board president Evan Hull said Sunday during the trail association’s annual meeting in Vancouver.
The trail system is more or less connected, Hull said, and some hikers already have tested the loop, which encircles the Gorge from the Portland-Vancouver metro area to Maryhill. Supporters hope that the Chinook Trail will become a worldwide hiking destination similar to the Pacific Crest Trail, which it intersects, and that the Chinook Trail will bring hikers through the wineries and small-town restaurants and lodges in the Gorge.
But many people might not know about the loop because the association lacks an online presence. It doesn’t have a website that would show people how to access the Chinook Trail, and it doesn’t regularly use social media, Hull said.
Several people at the meeting said they’d like to find a way to post a detailed map of the loop online.
“There is a Chinook Trail. Now we need to market and promote it,” Hull said.
The demand for hiking trails is there, Gala Miller of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest told the 20 or so people gathered at the association’s meeting. The Chinook Trail passes through the Gifford Pinchot forest, which draws more than one million visitors annually to its 1,500 miles of trails, 4,000 miles of forest roads and more than 200 recreation sites, including campgrounds, she said.
“Three million people live within a two-hour drive from the (Gifford Pinchot) forest,” said Miller, who works as a community engagement coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service.
The Chinook Trail will continue to improve over the years, Hull said.
Some parts of its loop are well-established, including a trail through the Yacolt Burn State Forest to Silver Star Mountain.
Other parts of the system rely on roads and highways as connectors. One part of the route requires hikers to walk along state Highway 14, and it’s recommended that hikers hitch a ride over the narrow Highway 97 bridge to cross the Columbia River into Oregon, he said. Over time, the association will work to adjust the route away from roadways.
Those improvements could take a backseat this year as the group shifts to marketing, however, Hull said. “We’re right at the cusp of that transition.”