Eagle Creek FireJul 17, 2020 01:25AM ● By Gary Munkhoff
The 400 Trail - photo © Gary Munkhoff
On September 2, 2017 a teenager hiking on the Eagle Creek Trail tossed a smoking firecracker off the trail and started a wildfire that eventually burned approximately 50,000 acres. The fire was 100% contained on November 30, 2017. The burn stretched from the Corbett area on the west to Mt. Defiance on the east. Large areas of the burn can be seen from I-84, but to really see the impact that a fire has on the forest one has to see it on the ground, inside the burned area.
This is now possible as several trails in the Cascade Locks area are open for hiking. The closest is the Pacific Crest Trail as it heads south out of town. You enter the burn almost immediately after leaving the trailhead by the Bridge of the Gods. Just east of town and behind the Forest Service Work Center is the trailhead for the Herman Creek Trail (#406), and once again you quickly enter the burn. The third is the 400 Trail just south of the Wyeth Campground.
No matter which trail you choose, you will enter a world unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before (unless you are or have been on a forest fire fighting crew). Instead of the lush green scene of a west side forest you see blackened trunks and bare ground or rock outcroppings. The smell of burned wood still persists, and you have an eerie feeling that even though maintenance crews have worked through the area there is still danger here.
You are surrounded with dead trees, standing, leaning, and down. The sound of the wind and the rain are different, and sunlight reaches deeper than before. There are huge Douglas firs with their trunks blackened to a height of 30 or 40 feet that are still alive
There are signs of healing, but the return of the healthy forest is many decades in the future. You are humbled by the fact that you will never see those 100+ year-old trees again in your lifetime. Nature operates on time scales that are beyond what we mere mortals can comprehend. But in spite of the destruction, there is still a feeling of calmness, and a sense of beauty. You will return to hike again.