Riverfront Trail closes in on completion

Final segment will detour from north side of I-84

Dan Durow, who has been working on the Riverfront Trail in one capacity or another since 1988, stands near the western end of the pathway and talks about what will be needed to finish the final mile and a half of the 10-mile trail.

Photo by Jesse Burkhardt.
Dan Durow, who has been working on the Riverfront Trail in one capacity or another since 1988, stands near the western end of the pathway and talks about what will be needed to finish the final mile and a half of the 10-mile trail.

Since 1988 – nearly 30 years ago – Dan Durow has been involved with creating a trail from what is now the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to The Dalles Dam.

“I was young when I started this,” he joked.

Back then, Durow was director of the Wasco County Planning and Economic Development Department, and the trail was merely a concept. Durow is now the chair of The Dalles Riverfront Trail Committee, and he pointed out that when the trail planning process began, the goal was to have a 10-mile walking and biking trail along the Columbia River.

The completed portion of the route – roughly 8.5 miles – starts at the Discovery Center on the western edge of town and goes to The Dalles Marina. The final objective is to extend it east from there toward The Dalles Dam, where it would connect with a paved pathway put in by the Corps of Engineers that extends east and west from the dam’s visitor center.

According to Durow, the first trail segment, which was about one-third of a mile long, opened in 1991 near where the Discovery Center is now. Over the years, additional segments of the pathway were built and connected, and now just a mile and a half of the envisioned 10 miles still remains to be completed. But that final segment is proving to be the most troublesome.

“The segment from The Dalles Marina to the dam is not yet completed,” Durow explained. “It will take longer to complete the trail, but we’re not giving up until it’s done, and being done means completing the trail from The Dalles Dam to the Discovery Center.”

Brad DeHart, a transportation engineer with the Oregon Department of Transportation and a project leader for the trail development effort, said plans to extend the trail alongside the north side of Interstate 84 were halted by the Yakama Nation due to archaeological and cultural concerns as well as potential disruptions of fishing sites along the proposed route.

“We ran into a roadblock with objections from the tribes on our proposed route. We recognize and respect those issues,” Durow explained. “We had to look for Plan B, or Route B. We are in the process of doing that right now.”

In the fall of 2011, the city of The Dalles applied for an Oregon Department of Transportation Enhancement Grant of $1.7 million to complete the Riverfront Trail, but Durow said trail proponents can’t do any more construction work on the trail until there is a route everybody can agree to. If an acceptable alternative route is identified, construction of the final segment could begin next year.

Dan Spatz, who is about to retire from several years of service on The Dalles City Council, called the trail a “wonderful local resource.”

Durow agreed.

“People use the trail a lot, and we’re glad for that,” he said.

DeHart said the trail now in place is a 12-foot wide paved trail with 2-foot gravel sections on each side, and that is the way the final portion of the trail is expected to be constructed as well.

“We’re trying to hold on to that standard,” DeHart said.

DeHart said he hopes a proposal for a new alignment on the south side of the freeway is not objected to by any of the stakeholders, whether it be the tribes, Union Pacific Railroad – which parallels the interstate – or any other entity.

“That’s what we hope,” DeHart said. “We heard what was said, that the tribes are opposed to a trail on the north side of the freeway, so we stepped back and looked at the south side of I-84 from the marina parking lot east to The Dalles Dam Visitors’ Center.” The trail would cross from the north side of I-84 to the south side somewhere near the marina, where the trail currently comes to an end.

“One way or another, we have to get across there,” Durow said.

Despite the delays and obstacles, Durow said he believes the end is finally in sight.

“This really has been a community-wide effort,” Durow said. “The trail is a key element in the Riverfront Master Plan. We’ve been waiting almost 30 years to get the entire trail built.”

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