NORTH BONNEVILLE — Easy access for hikers to popular Table Mountain and Aldrich Butte trails in the Columbia River Gorge is no longer available as a result of the sale and closure of Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa.
However, a community-based effort is under way to develop an replacement route.
For many years, the former Bonneville resort allowed hikers to park on a graveled area west of the buildings.
From the parking lot, it was a 0.1-mile hike to the start of what was known as the Dick Thomas Trail, which climbed for a mile and 500 feet elevation to marshy Carpenters Lake. Once at Carpenters Lake, hikers could follow routes south to the summit of Aldrich Butte, north to the summit of Table Mountain or northeast to Greenleaf Falls.
Over the winter, Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa was sold to Foundations Recovery Network, a Tennessee-based mental health and substance abuse company.
Adam Marion, chief executive officer of Foundations Recovery Network-Washington, said the company took ownership of the former resort in mid-January and closed the trail access four to six weeks later.
“The people we treat are not dangerous,’’ Marion said. “It’s not a half-way house, there’s no felons or sex offenders.’’
However, medical confidentiality rules apply and unregulated public access on the site is not compatible with the business, he said.
Without public access near the former resort, hikers wanting to head north must start at the U.S. Forest Service trailhead on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail just off state Highway 14 across from the Bonneville Dam second powerhouse.
“That adds, maybe, 4 miles each way to the Table Mountain hike,’’ said Dan Huntington, a key player in the development of Cape Horn trail in western Skamania County. “It’s brutal. I’ve always started near the resort. Table Mountain is a great hike. It would be too bad to lose it.’’
It was not uncommon to see 30 cars parked on the west edge of the former resort property on a Saturday, he said.
Tom Jermann, city planner for North Bonneville, said closure of the parking area at the former resort has hikers and others parking along the road on the back side of Greenleaf Slough and trespassing across private land.
The non-profit Bonneville Trails Foundation is trying to find a solution.
The foundation is working on a proposal to connect North Bonneville city center via a trail on the east side of Hamilton Creek to national forest land. The key is acquiring access across a piece of private property.
The foundation has a map with proposed hiker and mountain bike routes on Aldrich Butte.
“This could be the catalyst for getting better access,” Jermann said. “We (City of North Bonneville) can be the hub. People could park here and hike up.’’
Stan Hinatsu, recreation program manager for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, said a connecting trail from North Bonneville to the existing trails in the Aldrich Butte-Table Mountain area “conceptually is a good idea.’’
But, there’s a process involved, and it’s not particularly fast-moving.
Although the Forest Service owns the property where the existing network of trails and old roads connect, the routes have not been analyzed and are not authorized by the agency, he said.
Analysis needs to be done of the existing trails, as well as a connecting trail from North Bonneville, he said.
“We just don’t know enough about the proposal and how it fits into the landscape,’’ Hinatsu said.
“It’s not just as easy as drawing a line on the map and saying that’s a great route.’’
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area has several other projects in the pipeline for analysis.
It could take two years for the North Bonneville-Pacific Crest Trail connection to reach the top and the analysis could take 12 to 18 months, he said.
Until an analysis is done, the Forest Service does not know if the existing trails are in appropriate locations and where the agency would want the easement to connect with national forest land.
“We want to try to be a ‘say yes’’ agency, but there are significant hoops to jump through,’’ Hinatsu said.
The Bonneville Trails Foundation is moving forward. The group meets at 3 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at the Bonneville Event Center in North Bonneville.
The foundation also has visions of an east-west trail from Beacon Rock to Stevenson.
“The grand idea is to be a hub for recreation and trails in this part of the Gorge,’’ said Jacob Meyer, executive director of the Bonneville Trails Foundation.
Ryan Ojerio, Southwest Washington manager for the Washington Trails Association, told the Bonneville Trails Foundation last week not to get discouraged by a two-year wait for Forest Service attention.
There’s much to be done in terms of developing a potential master plan for the area and to be sure hikers, mountain bike riders and others are in agreement, he said.
“It’s no small task for all the things they (USFS)legally have to do,’’ Ojerio said. “This is a permanent land-use decision from natural to a recreation landscape.’’
Undaunted, the trails foundation has a $12,000 budget and had about 30 in attendance at its April meeting.
“We want to keep this momentum going,’’ Meyer said. “The potential is just amazing.’’