After a largely dry summer, much of the Pacific Northwest is now coping with the threat of dangerous wildfires. This includes land within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which closed most of its recreation areas on Sept. 10 as part of a larger regional wildfire prevention effort. This builds on the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic that communities around the Gorge are still working to address.
We all have a role to play protecting, preserving, and stewarding the Gorge so that future generations also can enjoy its beauty. We also all have a role to play in helping reduce the spread and danger of wildfires in vulnerable communities. And that's why Friends has decided to continue its pause for our Outdoor Programs and Guided Hikes for this fall.
In May we stressed that we're committed to operating our guided hikes in a way that puts safety first, and respects impacts on the land, the communities that surround Gorge trails, and recreation spots. Like other communities across our nation local leaders are still working to keep coronavirus infection rates in Scenic Area counties down. At the same time, public land managers have their hands full dealing with a surge in late-summer hikers (and trash) and emergency responders now are stretched thin as regional wildfires require quick response. Adding more people to the trails at this time by restarting Friends guided hikes would be the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.
Before making this decision, we took into account feedback from our recent Hiking eNews survey and conversations with our hike leaders and shepherds. We also got valuable input from Gorge community members, land managers, and a review of current coronavirus guidance for the relevant Oregon and Washington counties.
As noted previously, by suspending fall hikes we can focus instead on making the changes necessary to eventually relaunch hikes that are responsible and safe, as conditions with the coronavirus crisis permit. It also allows us to explore alternative outdoor program ideas that are easily compatible with restrictions on group sizes and safety measures that will continue to be part of daily life until a vaccine or other treatment is widely available.
We appreciate all who have given your input and we're looking into some ideas we've received from recent surveys and the hike leader & shepherd town hall for potential alternative programming we could experiment with this fall. Possibilities include new webinars this fall as well as fun, exciting new outdoor programming and guided hikes Friends can offer next year.