Graceful trees shade the dirt trail leading to a tranquil local swimming hole. An ideal outing for hot days, hikers are rewarded with waterfall views and chilly creek swims. Many consider the hike more of a stroll and therefore choose to endure the journey with minimal necessities such as flip-flops and sunscreen, unaware that today is going to be unlike any other. In a flash, an ignorant flick of the wrist, the burst of a childish firecracker, thirsty brush ignites the Eagle Creek Fire.
The Eagle Creek Fire, which began September 2nd, 2017, is still causing heated discussion (pardon the pun). Ignited by a 15-year-old boy and his friends, the fire eventually conjoined with the Indian Creek Fire to ultimately affect 48,861 acres of the Columbia River Gorge area. Flames engulfed the area for roughly three months before the fire was declared contained. Yet as any hard-to-learn lesson in life, a silver lining does exist. Do not begin singing a eulogy for the Gorge, for it is alive and growing.
The carcasses of fallen trees play tribute in an inevitable life cycle, providing necessary nutrients to the surrounding community. Mushroom hunters are gleeful in the spread of morel shrooms booming unlike before. Bird watchers may rejoice, as new neighborhood friends are attracted to the area because of the burn. Woodpeckers drill out new homes while olive-sided flycatchers feast amongst the growing bug population. In his article “Rebirth of a Forest,” Cory Eldridge writes, “This is why scientists call large snags and logs legacy trees. They are an inheritance for the young forest from the old. The fire in the Columbia River Gorge didn’t take away that inheritance. The fire gave it.”
However, the work to rebuild does not lie solely on the shoulders of the Gorge inhabitant species. Many volunteer organizations have come together in an effort to continue the Gorge recovery process as the Gorge Trails Recovery Team. The team consists of the Trailkeepers of Oregon, Washington Trails Association, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. They welcome volunteers to assist with the vital restoration process.
While some may read about the fire and quickly jump aboard the “not my Gorge, not my problem” mentality, there is a most important lesson to be learned here: Leave No Trace matters. The rules and regulations put into effect within natural, protected areas are there for a reason. Believe it or not, park rangers and land management bureaus do want you to enjoy the natural spaces they protect. They also want those areas to be around for future visitors to enjoy.