Gorge Caretaker: Roberta Cobb

Gorge Caretaker Role: Chair, Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), Mt. Hood Chapter

"I’ve been maintaining trails since the mid-’90s. Specifically, our chapter of the PCTA adopts sections of trails and I adopted the section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Bridge of the Gods to Herman Creek Bridge in 2012. As a chapter we also have adopted the Eagle Creek trail in the Gorge. Overall, our chapter maintains about 250 miles of trails from Breitenbush Lake on the PCT all the way to the north end of Mt. Adams in Washington. We also maintain feeder trails like Ramona Falls trail, Timberline, the Paradise Park loop and trail.

"The Gorge is just a part of what we work on, but it's one of the big highlights. The people who hike the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada, almost all of them take the Eagle Creek trail to see all the waterfalls. This section of trail is just a little soft and green; people hike through the desert and then they see this soft greenness and the waterfalls. They generally consider Oregon to be the easiest state to cross on the PCT because the trails are well maintained. The trek is a little easier.

"This place is special to me because it's such a nice close refuge from the city and it’s this great green mossy hug. You just think, 'I need a break, I need green.' The Herman Creek trail has always been a favorite of mine just because it gets away from the road so quickly. Then you get into that old growth. Eagle Creek with all the waterfalls.

"The fire was such a gut wrench for me. I’ve spent so much time working on Eagle Creek. We had done 14 work projects on Eagle Creek in 2017. A big one was putting in the Tish Creek Bridge. The bridge had to be dropped in by helicopter. Because of the snow, we held four work parties to get a path cleared for that. We got the bridge in but the trail needed constant maintenance because of all the mud so we had more work parties for that. And to see that all burn up...I just cried. Then later the U.S. Forest Service posted a picture of the Dry Creek Bridge, which is on my section and had a sprinkler system that worked. The bridge was saved! That photo made me cry, but tears of happiness.

"One thing I've learned since the fire is how resilient the forest is just on its own. We don’t have to help. The forest will be fine; it’s burned here before. Something I'd love to see for the Gorge is even more protection and possibly more trails, so people can visit and not be so crowded on the trails. What we need to do is make sure the trail systems are resilient, to make sure that we build them up to a certain standard of resilience.

"Volunteer trail work is important because the Forest Service has very limited resources. By having volunteers we can get work done, because the trails would be impassable without some of the trail work. We have a lot of skills that we bring; it’s not just throwing people out there to do it. We’re highly trained and we lead crews, but we also share that sense of stewardship that people come out and they work on the trail and they feel better about the trail. They understand how hard it is to maintain a trail. They have a better sense of ownership."

Caretakers of the Gorge is a collaboration between Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Swanson Studio, a Portland-based commercial photo studio.

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