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Respect the River/Rio — Forest Programs

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

A recreationists attempt to burn up a natural large wood jam at Oneonta Gorge, so that hiking would be easier up the stream to the Oneonta Falls

An SCA intern talking with campers during the contact ranger program.


The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, as the name may imply, has much riverine and aquatic systems within its boundaries. The Scenic Area straddles both the states of Oregon and Washington and encompasses several major towns, such as Hood River, White Salmon, and Cascade Locks. The area is also a popular "backyard" playground to the metropolis of Portland and Vancouver.

The Respect the River program is in its infancy in the Scenic Area, but shows great promise to address the growing impacts of recreation on the water, vegetation, and wildlife resources. Several prominent educational signs are in the works to be placed at Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural area in Oregon, with over two million visitors annually. The signs are designed to educate visitors about the fish and bird species that live immediately adjacent to the busy boardwalk as well as highlight the impacts of their action on these

species' aquatic environment. The visitor center at Multnomah Falls is staffed seven days a week and is an important resource for answering any questions that visitors may have.

The Scenic Area plans to incrementally expand the Respect the River Program by integrating the pre-worked and colorful signs into existing recreation informational boards. The priority would be to place these signs at sites adjacent to aquatic systems, especially those areas with noted impacts due to recreation.


The majority of the recreation sites within the Scenic Area is adjacent to water and/or is on steep slopes. Although most visitors cherish and care for these sites, some impacts to the stream, soil and vegetation resources do occur. Below are those that are most common.

Creation of "shortcuts" across trail switchbacks - Switchbacks are employed on steep slopes to reduce rutting and erosion from the trail. Shortcut trails cut up steep slopes, trample vegetation, compact soils, and increase erosion potential from heavy rains.

Littering - Popular sites, such as Multnomah Falls, have a chronic litter problem. Garbage is also commonly found in streams that are adjacent to Interstate 84 (Oregon), State Route 14 (Washington) and parking lots/trailheads.

Stream habitat alterations through wood removal or rock dam creations - Streams are popular areas to wade and hike through in the Scenic Area during hot summer days due to their easy access from major highways. The habitat immediately adjacent to these points tend to stay disturbed, either directly through hand moving of wood and rocks, or indirectly through machine removal of wood/gravel to protect existing infrastructure and historic recreation routes. An extreme example is the attempt remove (burn up) a natural large wood jam at Oneonta Gorge in 2002 so that hiking would be easier up the stream to the Oneonta Falls.

Streamside soil compaction and devegetation - The result of chronic trampling feet going off the main trail or overlook. The stream banks become so compacted that vegetation can no longer recolonize the site, and the soil erodes into downstream areas during rain events.

Solutions and Opportunities

The solution to all of these problems is education. Many of the individuals responsible for these problems don't realize the impact they have on the environment.

Improvements in behavior can be made through contact with recreationists and explaining the impacts caused by some forms of recreation. Educational signs are planned to be placed at areas with noted resource damage or have unique natural features to highlight (salmon spawning, rare species use, or large congregations of bald eagles, for instance). These signs help to inform visitors on their natural surroundings and the consequences caused by inappropriate use. Respect the River signs foster stewardship behavior through education rather than heavy-handed regulations.

Main Contacts

Chuti Fiedler
Fish and Wildlife Biologist
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area


U.S. Forest Service
Last modified: April 12, 2012

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