Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

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querulous
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Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by querulous » November 9th, 2020, 11:18 am

Fires destroy trail systems, particularly resource-stretched, overextended trail systems. This is a phenomenon I have seen repeatedly in big statutory wilderness areas, like the Pasayten up in Washington or the Frank Church in Idaho. I don't know how many of you have had the experience of going out there with a 90's-era forest service trail map and discovering that ~40% of the trails on the map aren't there anymore. Usually it's the heavily used, popular, main-trunk trails that survive, and the peripheral, lightly used ones that fall off the back of the queue. Usually the disappearance of these trails is not the product of any formal agency decision-making. It's just something that happens incrementally, year by year, as a trail is passed over one year, and the next year, and the year following.
So what does this have to do with the Oregon "Gorge" and the Eagle Creek fire, you ask? The Gorge is not deep wild, it's highly visible and close to a lot of people. A lot more agency resources, and a lot more volunteer and NGO resources, are likely available to fix the trails, than in more remote areas. But on the other hand, the trail network out there is very dense, and the geology is very challenging. There are a lot of really gonzo trails out there, following quite unnatural travel routes blasted into cliffsides and sidehilling steep talus. (One criterion for "gonzo" might be whether parents should hold onto their young childrens' hands). Per mile, these trails are expensive to build, expensive to reconstruct, and expensive to maintain. And I get the distinct impression that, pre-fire, a lot of Gorge trails were under-maintained, resources were stretched thin. Think of some big fancy piece of infrastructure, like the New York City subway system, built in richer and more expansive times, struggling to keep it together.

So I am wondering what's going to fall off the back of the queue. I'm thinking the Nesmith point trail is a good candidate. It's been three years now and no work whatsoever has been done on it. It's got a lot of vertical, a lot of sidehilling in talus, and at least one "gonzo" section where it climbs out of the main ascent valley to avoid steep talus. And pre-fire usage on that trail was pretty light (no views, a lot of humping up-hill).

Those in the know will probably tell me that "not one mile of official trail will be cut loose, there are plans to fix it all". And I would respond, that's what they always say. It's a question of resources. The trails which were very popular pre-fire because of their waterfalls and "gonzo" characteristics (Eagle Creek, Oneonta, Multnomah falls section of the Larch Mt trail, upper Elowah Falls trail) are still not open. If opened, they are closed again because of instability and rockfall issues. They will keep sucking up resources. The loss of forest canopy in many areas will mean that trails will need to be brushed out repeatedly. Sidehill stretches in talus will need to be cleared repeatedly because of post-fire slope looseness. And in five to ten years the trees are going to start coming down in significant volume. In the Mark Hatfield chain saws are illegal. That's a lot of hand work.

So there's a good chance they will just never "get to" the Nesmith point trail. Other candidates? Tanner Butte, maybe. Light usage, severe burn, but topographically not so challenging. Ditto the Moffet creek trail up top. Topographically mellow, little if at all burned, but very lightly used.

Disagree or propose other candidates.

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Bosterson
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by Bosterson » November 9th, 2020, 11:49 am

querulous wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 11:18 am
The trails which were very popular pre-fire because of their waterfalls and "gonzo" characteristics (Eagle Creek, Oneonta, Multnomah falls section of the Larch Mt trail, upper Elowah Falls trail) are still not open. If opened, they are closed again because of instability and rockfall issues.
What do you mean by the "Multnomah Falls section?" The entire trail system around Larch Mtn was open until things got closed due to COVID, with the exception of Franklin Ridge, which they apparently had finally brushed out and were planning to reopen, but then, again, COVID. Eagle Creek was nearly fixed but then had subsequent collapses; I don't think any work has been done on Oneonta, but I would expect the same post-fire instability. Definitely agree that Tanner Butte would be an easy fix as the terrain is mellower, but the whole ridge is nuked and it would require a lot of work. Same deal for the Horsetail Creek and Bell Creek trails, though TB is much worse (and longer). The problem is that with limited time/resources, the FS seems to be working first on the in-demand "high value" trails like Eagle Creek and Oneonta, which are precisely the ones they should fix last in terms of a bang for buck, since it's hard to imagine those trails being consistently stable for many years until regrowth anchors the hillsides more and a lot of the dead trees come down. Re Nesmith, my understanding is that the trail is effectively gone in the box canyon, and that area is just very slidey in general. I think they could probably make some progress on it now, but again, not a high enough value target. The same probably goes for Wyeth. I also feel like a lot of the focus out in the Gorge has been completing the bike path, so maybe now that it's finished, they will move on to trail rehab.

Whether or not they will actually abandon any of these trails due to attrition remains to be seen. Definitely users and local trailwork/advocacy organizations (*ahem*) should keep the pressure on the FS to reopen as quickly as possible. In terms of which are most likely to actually be abandoned, Moffet Cr was already semi-abandoned, so it seems unlikely they would actually put in effort to do anything to it. Nesmith leads to Horsetail leads to Oneonta, and I wonder if they wouldn't try to reopen the former until they've done the latter, to prevent people from trying to go down Oneonta. In which case, since Oneonta seems pretty destroyed and will be hard to rebuild (and keep from collapsing in the future), that bodes poorly for Nesmith for the foreseeable future...
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querulous
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by querulous » November 9th, 2020, 12:42 pm

Bosterson wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 11:49 am
What do you mean by the "Multnomah Falls section?" The entire trail system around Larch Mtn was open until things got closed due to COVID, with the exception of Franklin Ridge, which they apparently had finally brushed out and were planning to reopen, but then, again, COVID.
I was referring to the paved switchbacking section to the upper platform. I got the impression that was closed after initial reopening, due to rockfall. I could be wrong. I guess that slope didn't get severely burned. COVID might be a good argument for keeping it closed, not much room for 6ft distancing.
Bosterson wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 11:49 am
Eagle Creek was nearly fixed but then had subsequent collapses; I don't think any work has been done on Oneonta, but I would expect the same post-fire instability. Definitely agree that Tanner Butte would be an easy fix as the terrain is mellower, but the whole ridge is nuked and it would require a lot of work. Same deal for the Horsetail Creek and Bell Creek trails, though TB is much worse (and longer). The problem is that with limited time/resources, the FS seems to be working first on the in-demand "high value" trails like Eagle Creek and Oneonta, which are precisely the ones they should fix last in terms of a bang for buck, since it's hard to imagine those trails being consistently stable for many years until regrowth anchors the hillsides more and a lot of the dead trees come down.
Agreed, it seems a poor strategic choice, if understandable from a public desire/public relations perspective.
The re-closure of the Starvation Ridge and Wyeth trails due to "collapse" seems odd, too. Yeah, they have some steep sections, and a lot of elevation gain, but no real exposure (unlike Eagle Creek or the Oneonta trail). I'd bet plenty that any competent moderately experienced person could find a way around any slope failures. They are both also on the far east end of the fire area, and mostly *not burned*. So fire effects must be quite localized. A little money would go a long way on either.
Bosterson wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 11:49 am
Re Nesmith, my understanding is that the trail is effectively gone in the box canyon, and that area is just very slidey in general. I think they could probably make some progress on it now, but again, not a high enough value target. The same probably goes for Wyeth. I also feel like a lot of the focus out in the Gorge has been completing the bike path, so maybe now that it's finished, they will move on to trail rehab.
I would expect the bike path is a different pot of money, but of course that does not preclude competition for managerial effort in the CRGNSA office.

I wonder also if they have burned through, or shortly will burn through (no pun intended), whatever post-fire restoration slush fund they have at their disposal. If they're back to their regular trails budget things could slow to a crawl.

Re the Nesmith point trail, I followed the route two years ago up to the plateau. Its climbing sidehill sections are largely obliterated, or at least invisible under talus. Reopening it on the lower debris fan would be easy enough, largely brushing and minor wood removal. Overall a lot of work to reopen, but I would not expect the persistent instability issues to be anywhere near as severe as Eagle Creek or Oneonta. There's far less really high-angle terrain.
Bosterson wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 11:49 am
Whether or not they will actually abandon any of these trails due to attrition remains to be seen. Definitely users and local trailwork/advocacy organizations (*ahem*) should keep the pressure on the FS to reopen as quickly as possible. In terms of which are most likely to actually be abandoned, Moffet Cr was already semi-abandoned, so it seems unlikely they would actually put in effort to do anything to it. Nesmith leads to Horsetail leads to Oneonta, and I wonder if they wouldn't try to reopen the former until they've done the latter, to prevent people from trying to go down Oneonta. In which case, since Oneonta seems pretty destroyed and will be hard to rebuild (and keep from collapsing in the future), that bodes poorly for Nesmith for the foreseeable future...
The CRGNSA office do seem to have a really bad case of paternalism, or perhaps risk aversion. It's not an invariable FS characteristic, certainly in northern WA the FS don't typically try keep burned areas closed after the fires are out.

squidvicious
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by squidvicious » November 9th, 2020, 1:07 pm

querulous wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 12:42 pm
I was referring to the paved switchbacking section to the upper platform. I got the impression that was closed after initial reopening, due to rockfall.
That was back in the spring of 2019, which I'm pretty sure was approximately 3000 years ago. Or maybe just feels like it at this point. It was closed after a fairly significant rockfall event--they were escorting people off the trail in hardhats--then reopened once they were able to complete rock scaling to remove the unstable rock.

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Bosterson
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by Bosterson » November 9th, 2020, 1:46 pm

As Squidvicious noted, the Multnomah pavement closure was only initially due to the burn, then again last year due to the rockfall, and then this year due to COVID crowding. (I'm not sure how much of it is open now - I know they reopened the lower falls viewing platform below the Benson Bridge, which looks like a [email protected]#%$ whenever I drive by it on the highway.)
querulous wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 12:42 pm
The re-closure of the Starvation Ridge and Wyeth trails due to "collapse" seems odd, too.
Re Starvation Ridge, it is not closed. Perhaps you're confusing it with the Starvation Cutoff running from the bike path up to the ridge below the powerlines? That section is closed due to a landslide last year that completely wiped out a 75ish ft section of the cutoff not far above the bike path - you can actually see it from below. The damage is so severe that I'm not sure how they would fix it so that it's protected from further slides - I don't really expect them to reopen that any time soon; certainly, it is not at the top of any of their to-do lists. (And re Wyeth, they have never reopened it since the fire.)

At present, I believe the only trails still closed due to the fire are Franklin Ridge (though hopefully not for much longer), Oneonta (east of Franklin Ridge), Bell Creek, Horsetail Creek, Moffett Creek, road 777, Wauna Pt/Tanner Butte (is Wauna VP closed? I assume so), Eagle Creek, Eagle-Tanner, Indian Springs, Ruckel Creek, Ruckle Ridge, and Wyeth. (The Eagle-Benson presumably no longer exists, but technically it is also closed.)

Here is the USFS list of current trail conditions. Interestingly - or perhaps worryingly - some of the trails above do not even feature on that list - eg, Tanner Butte and Wyeth trails.

Note that the Herman Creek TH is currently closed while they do work on dangerous trees in the campground.
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squidvicious
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by squidvicious » November 9th, 2020, 3:18 pm

Bosterson wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 1:46 pm
As Squidvicious noted, the Multnomah pavement closure was only initially due to the burn, then again last year due to the rockfall, and then this year due to COVID crowding. (I'm not sure how much of it is open now
Closed from the lower viewing platform to the junction with Wahkeena. But, you no longer need a reservation to stand at the lower viewing platform. Progress!

For that matter, isn't Eagle Creek also really a COVID closure? They had announced it would be reopening, which unfortunately turned out to be right about the time everything shut down. Whatever the condition, there's no way I could see that reopening under the pandemic--pretty much the poster trail for "high use, low social distance."

FWIW, Oneonta is open above the junction with the Multnomah Spur trail, and it's in absolutely beautiful condition. Was just there Sunday. Made a nice lollipop loop from the top of Larch to out along Oneonta, then returning through the crater and up again. Wondered why I haven't always done it that way and avoided the road walk.

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bobcat
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by bobcat » November 10th, 2020, 7:31 pm

The FS asked TKO to look at Nesmith Point in the fall before COVID, meaning it was next on their list. I'm not really in the loop, but COVID will have set all these efforts back by quite a bit although there are work parties out there, mainly fixing up trails that had been fixed and then allowed to lie so they need to be fixed up again (in the Gorge anyway). Crews have been logging out Franklin Ridge again, for example.

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retired jerry
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by retired jerry » November 10th, 2020, 8:06 pm

If a trail is closed, and its in a wilderness, can they use chainsaws?

And the corollary, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a noise?

Aimless
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by Aimless » November 11th, 2020, 9:00 am

Trail closures don't affect the chainsaw prohibition. I have heard of special exemptions being issued, but I don't really know anything about that, including whether it is true. :?

RobFromRedland
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Re: Will the Nesmith point trail ever reopen?

Post by RobFromRedland » November 11th, 2020, 3:57 pm

Aimless wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 9:00 am
Trail closures don't affect the chainsaw prohibition. I have heard of special exemptions being issued, but I don't really know anything about that, including whether it is true. :?
It is true - There are procedures that can be implemented to allow chainsaws in wilderness areas, but it does not appear that the FS likes/wants to use those procedures. I'm not sure I've ever seen or heard of an exemption on FS land - at least not officially. For some of the recently fire damaged trails it would seem appropriate to allow the use of chainsaws to clear/repair the trails. In the Riverside fire area I'm concerned that some trails will get abandoned rather that repaired (Cripple Creek, Fish Creek Mountain to name two that concern me). Fish Creek area was hit particularly hard in the fires.
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