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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Officials: Lower Falls taking a beating

Forest personnel cite high volume of visitors, urge public to go elsewhere

By , Columbian staff writer

Thinking about hiking up to Lower Falls on the Lewis River to beat the heat? Don’t. But if you really have to see it, go on the weekdays.

Hordes of visitors are making the site extremely overcrowded, trashed and trampled.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is urging people to spare the Lower Falls Recreation Area and seek out new places in the forest to visit.

“There’s way more people at the site than the site was developed to handle,” said Emily Platt, district ranger for the Mount Adams Ranger District. “There’s overuse of restroom facilitates that are already in bad shape. There’s a huge amount of erosion, and it’s really changing the character of the site. It’s not intentional — people don’t mean to do that — but it’s unavoidable with that many people out there.“

In a news release, the agency said the site has been especially popular on this summer’s weekends, especially as temperatures have spiked. As a result, people are leaving water bottles, cigarette butts and beer cans and other garbage behind, trails are getting eroded, and the plants around the site are getting trampled. Parking areas are overflowing, and cars are spilling out onto the roadside, which could impede first-responder access during emergencies should they be needed, according to the Forest Service.

Platt said that on July 21, there were 150 vehicles lined up along the road outside the day-use area. The next day, there were 180, she said.

Heather Ibsen, spokewoman for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, said the site has always been busy on weekends, but it’s gained new notoriety as magazine articles and social media users have highlighted the falls.

Indeed, a quick search on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit will yield countless pictures and videos shared by professional photographers and amateur hikers sharing arresting photos of the wide waterfall and calm pool below. But not every poster is so enthusiastic. Even before the Forest Service made its public appeal, some social media users spurred conversations with hundreds of responses with posts photos of trash and wasted left behind by other people and urged visitors to be more responsible.

“This weekend I returned to find hundreds of day trippers surrounding the area, and when they left, they left behind garbage all over the falls and above and below it,” Facebook user McKenzie Williams wrote. “We picked everything from beer cans and bottles and wrappers to tampons, socks, and pads and even a cooler. This is heartbreaking to see.”

“I have been camping down there for the better part of a dozen years, and the last time I went was probably my last,” Sean Mann wrote in one discussion in the Facebook group Pacific NW Waterfalls. “We do dispersed camping in one of the many places you can out by there, and what we were greeted with was buckets of waste, underwear, socks, (toilet paper) EVERYWHERE, fire pits full of beer cans and bottles and plastic. … It was so disappointing.”

The problems associated with intense visitation aren’t limited to the falls itself. The road leading to the trailhead, Forest Road 90, is facing an active landslide near Crab Creek. The side has created a deep depression in the road, which has become exacerbated by the increased traffic — and numerous cars have gotten stuck in it recently, according to the Forest Service. The agency now recommends that only high-clearance vehicles attempt to cross the slide; recreational vehicles and vehicles with trailers in tow should avoid it completely. The Forest Service says it’s continuously working on the slide area, but it needs time to create a permanent solution.

As an alternative route, visitors can reach the Lewis River through Trout Lake to Forest Road 23 and west on Forest Road 90.

For those set on visiting a waterfall on the Lewis River, the Forest Service recommends Twin Falls, Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Taitnapum Falls on the east side of the slide area, or Curly Creek falls on the west side of the slide area.

“We are considering long-term solutions at the (Lower Falls),” said Platt. “We’d like to be able to accommodate more people at the site in the future, but we’re not set up for it right now.”

Columbian staff writer