PORTLAND — The long-awaited Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is still at least a couple years from completion, but the latest trail segment to open to the public proves that patience can pay off. 

A new 3-mile section of the trail opened to the public earlier this month, connecting Wyeth State Park to Lindsey Creek where it meets up with another trail segment that opened in 2016.

That means cyclists and hikers now have a designated, protected pathway that runs nearly 6 miles along the Columbia River Gorge, from Wyeth State Park to Viento State Park. That route runs past waterfalls, hiking trails, a campground and spectacular views of one of the most scenic destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

When complete, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail will run 73 miles connecting Troutdale to The Dalles, retracing the original scenic highway that was partially destroyed in the construction of Interstate 84. While parts of the trail will be on the new, protected pathway, other sections will run along the Historic Columbia River Highway, sharing the road with cars.

All that remains to be constructed is the 5-mile Mitchell Point segment, which requires either blasting a tunnel or building a bridge to connect the western trail segments to Hood River and The Dalles. A 2018 progress report cited 2020 as a target for the start of construction.

The newest segment has been in the works for years and required some of the most serious engineering on the trail to date. Crews constructed the 500-foot Summit Creek Viaduct that rises up above Interstate 84, and had to skirt the trail around the base of an unstable, rocky hill known as Shellrock Mountain.

Cyclists and walkers hit the pavement on a recent sunny morning, two days after the trail segment opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Riding in pairs and small groups, many stopped to admire the view from the high point on the trail, a beautifully constructed viewpoint just east of the viaduct.

If there’s any downside to the new segment it’s the noise. If you’re seeking peace and quiet in the Columbia River Gorge, this is not the trail for you. The paved trail runs parallel to the freeway the entire way, and during long stretches it’s right next to the traffic.

But that’s a small price to pay considering what you get in return: a safe recreation path down the throat of the gorge.

Former Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz said he wanted the Columbia River Highway State Trail to be an “international destination” when complete, calling the project “transformational.”

It’s clear the engineers and construction crews have taken that sentiment to heart, crafting an attraction that’s worthy of the hype. There’s more work to be done to complete that vision, but for now people will surely flock to the segments that are open — including this new, beautiful stretch of the trail.

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