Restoring the Dream
By 1954, a new bypass route left much of the middle 35 miles of the scenic highway between Dodson and Hood River destroyed or cut off. Still, 24 miles of the western end and 15 miles of the eastern end remained intact and accessible to tourists even after the bypass. And with most of the traffic moved to the new road, what was left of the old route could be refocused on its scenic purpose.
New masonry work at a dramatic viewpoint on a non-motorized part of the restored highway east of Hood River. (Oregon State Archives, Scenic Image No. DSC66-8)
The restored Oneonta Tunnel, too narrow for modern traffic, sits right next to the current alignment of the highway. (Oregon State Archives, Scenic Image No. 20160316-9554)
In the last 20 years, restoration efforts have brought several sections of the highway to life after many decades of neglect or loss. This work has been bolstered by a number of recognitions related to much of the route, including designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2000. By 2015, 63 of the original 74 miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway were open for travel. About 13 miles of that include what is now called the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, which is open only to foot and bicycle traffic.
Officials dedicated 6.5 miles of this trail west of Cascade Locks in 1999. A year later they opened the trail between Hood River and Mosier, including 5 miles of paved surface and a renovation of the Mosier Twin Tunnels. By 2012, a 1.5-mile addition made it possible to bicycle from Portland to Cascade Locks without traveling on Interstate 84. Work on a trail from Wyeth to Starvation Creek is now underway.
A long concrete catchment now protects pedestrians from falling rock just west of the Mosier Twin Tunnels. (Oregon State Archives, Scenic Image No. 20160316-9475)
Smooth pavement, great views and the absence of motorized traffic make the five-mile stretch of the historic trail between Hood River and Mosier a favorite for pedestrians and bicylists. (Oregon State Archives, Scenic Image No. 20160316-9415)
The most challenging restoration will focus on the last five-mile section of trail that includes Mitchell Point, site of the iconic five-window tunnel that was destroyed in 1966. This presents the same problem that the original road builders faced: the point is too steep to go over and there is no place to go around. Officials are considering several options but believe that a tunnel is a likely solution again.
(Source: Historic Columbia River Highway 2015 Progress Report)