Forest Service to decide Cape Horn Trail status

STEVENSON -- The U.S. Forest Service says it will announce by summer the future of the scenic Cape Horn trail in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The agency has vetted four alternatives last week for the 7.8-mile route, which was created by hiking enthusiasts on federal land and private conservation trust lands over the past decade in western Skamania County.

The trail starts at the park-and-ride lot at the junction of Highway 14 and Salmon Falls Road and climbs to Pioneer Point atop Cape Horn. It then drops to spectacular bluffs above the Columbia River and passes underneath a waterfall before ending at the bottom of Cape Horn Road.

Hikers then must walk 1.3 miles up the road to complete the loop.

But several problems exist with the current trail location.

Among the troubles are poorly designed switchbacks, viewpoints and wet-area crossings, but, most importantly, the trail's proximity to a peregrine falcon nesting site.

David Anderson, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, said the Cape Horn peregrine nest site is one of three on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge.

Peregrines are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, but are a sensitive species, he said.

Dan Huntington, a leading advocate of the Cape Horn trail, noted that since 1982 Washington has had great success in recovering the peregrine population.

Anderson countered that in the Gorge the recovery largely has been on the Oregon side, which has more open cliffs and shady nesting sites, which are preferred by peregrines.

Dan Harkenrider, scenic area manager, said the Forest Service will analyze the alternatives and issue an environmental assessment in May. That will be followed by a 30-day comment period, then his final decision.