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Giving Back: Historic Columbia River Highway

If you’ve ever ridden the section of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) that starts just above Hood River – where the only traffic is cyclists, runners and walkers, the setting is a cliffside roadway bordered by white fencing and punctuated by tunnels, and the scenery offers stunning views of the Columbia Gorge – you know it is one of the sublime places in the world to pedal a bike.

But what you might not know is that it is only one segment of the HCRH, and that a dedicated group of volunteers is trying to restore the entire length. And once you know that, you won’t be surprised that Cycle Oregon is involved.

The Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway are determined to restore and reconnect America’s first scenic highway, constructed in the 1920s. Their goal is to (re-)build a route from Troutdale to The Dalles without having to ride on Interstate 84.

Interestingly, this was the basic route of Day 3 of Cycle Oregon 2005 – a day Friends founder Jeanette Kloos says long-time CO riders called the best day of the week – and some said was the best day ever – despite 13 miles on I-84.

The connection efforts got a definitive start when Jeanette retired from the Oregon Dept. of Transportation and wanted to devote her time to a project that had become a passion. She found ready partners in Jonathan Nicholas, Jerry Norquist and the Cycle Oregon Fund. The Friends nonprofit started in 2006 with Jonathan’s urging for all interested people to donate to the group – and a $5,000 grant in 2007 from Cycle O.

“That allowed us to get a computer, a projector and other supplies you need to spread the word about our vision,” Jeanette recalls. “It’s hard to start an organization without a computer and website these days.”

And Cycle Oregon also supported the creation of The Gorge Ride, the principal annual fundraiser for the group, which is held on the second Saturday every June. The ride goes from The Dalles to Hood River and back, and the first year it was held Jerry gave Jeanette a book on organizing event rides, donated equipment, and even rode SAG. The event has become a popular annual ride, showcasing the beauty of the Gorge and helping fund the Friends’ efforts.

Those efforts have led to 11 miles of the planned 23 being completed so far. A big step was the recent completion of a geotechnical feasibility study of Mitchell Point, a major connection obstacle along the route. The study showed that it would be possible to construct a tunnel through the rock, giving the group confidence that their vision can one day be reality.

And Cycle Oregon recently awarded another $5,000 grant for a concept study for the east side of Mitchell Point – now that a tunnel is feasible, they need an idea of what will go on the other side. The plan includes using material excavated for the tunnel as part of the roadway.

ODOT has plans and $4 million in funding to complete an additional 1.5 miles in 2011-12, and from there the Friends will just keep on working, with help from ODOT, Oregon Parks and Rec, the Federal Highway Administration… and Cycle Oregon.

“Cycle Oregon helped us get this all started,” Jeanette says. “We wouldn’t have been able to get going as quickly without their help.”

 

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