The Board of County Commissioners celebrated one of the nation’s most iconic hiking routes, the Pacific Crest Trail on Tuesday, including learning that it wasn’t supposed to be a trail at all.
It was supposed to be a highway.
When the U.S. Forest Service sent Fred Cleator into the Cascades in the 1930s, he was to plot a north-to-south highway, similar to the highway going through the Columbia Gorge, author Mark Larabee told the board.
But after walking the rugged terrain, Cleator became convinced the route would be a better hiking trail than roadway. The path became the Skyline Trail, and eventually, linked to trails in California and Washington, became the Pacific Crest Trail.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Board recognized 2018 as the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Crest Trail’s designation as a National Scenic Trail. It was one of the first two trails protected when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Scenic Trail Act in 1968 to protect the environment and promote a healthy populace. Today, there are 11 National Scenic Trails including the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trail, and 19 historic trails.
“Leadership matters,’’ former Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito told the board. “That’s why we have a trail today.’’
Naito quoted then-Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who pushed to protect public lands saying, “America today stands poised on a pinnacle of wealth and power, yet we live in a land of vanishing beauty, increasing ugliness, shrinking open space and an overall environment diminished daily by pollution noise, and blight.’’
Udall added: “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact, plans to protect man.”
But if national leaders played a key role in establishing the trail, it has been volunteers who have cut, maintained and preserved the 2,650 mile route from Mexico to Canada.
In 2017, the Pacific Crest Trail Association marshalled about 2,100 volunteers and put in 100,000 hours just to keep trail open,’’ said Larabee, an associate director of the Association and the co-author of the definitive history of the trail. The Mount Hood Chapter alone maintains 250 miles of the trail from Breitenbush to just south of Goat Rocks in Washington state.
“That is a big gift, not just to the United States, but the world. We have members from over 50 countries, and people all around the world who come here to walk on the Pacific Crest Trail.’’
Amy Allen, of the County’s Employee Wellness Program, said the County has used the theme of the Pacific Crest Trail to inspire 90 teams to compete in a healthy walking challenge earlier this year.
Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann joined the Chair Deborah Kafoury in approving the proclamation recognizing the 50th anniversary.
“By commemorating this trail, I hope that it will remind more people to go out and experience the wild,’’ Chair Kafoury said.