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Blazing Trails at the Lyle Cherry Orchard

Blazing Trails at the Lyle Cherry Orchard
Volunteers on a Washington Trails Association work party helped create the first 700 feet of new trail to re-route a steep section of the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail. (photographer: Micheal Drewry)

The land trust preserve has been a place of trailblazing innovation for over a century.

The Cherry Orchard, 540 acres perched above and east of the community of Lyle, WA, has a history of adventure. Years before Sam Hill directed his road-building zeal to the Oregon side of the Gorge, it was this preserve where he started the journey to build a magnificent road on the Washington side of the Gorge leading to his new town of Maryhill. A one-mile demonstration road, part of which still exists on the preserve was built but his vision for a Columbia River Highway only blossom when he turned his attention to the Oregon side of the river.
 
Nine decades later, Friends founder Nancy Russell saw the allure to the land as Hill did and she purchased several parcels of land and gradually built the current trail, one of the first privately owned Gorge trails open to the public. After her death in 2008, Nancy’s estate bequeathed the Cherry Orchard preserve to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust. 
 
 

New trails, new perspectives

A decade later, trailblazing on the Lyle Cherry Orchard continues. Friends and Washington Trails Association (WTA) are partnering to build an additional three miles of trail, with two new loops: one to highlight the site of the long-abandoned namesake cherry orchard and another that wraps around the iconic “Lyle” sign.
 
Friends’ long-term goal is to connect the trail into Lyle as a key component of Gorge Towns to Trails, an effort to create a loop trail around the entire Gorge, connecting Gorge communities. The Lyle Cherry Orchard trail expansion project is the second Gorge Towns to Trails accomplishment, following the Mosier Plateau trail completed in 2013.
 
We checked in with Gorge Towns to Trails Project Manager Renee Tkach for an update on these exciting developments for Gorge recreation and community connections.
 
What's happened with the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail the past few months?
 
Renee Tkach: This past November, after close to a decade of planning, Friends received final approval from the Columbia River Gorge Commission to start construction on two new loops that will eventually add three new miles to the current Lyle Cherry Orchard trail. Our partner WTA put together a work party where we constructed 700 feet of new trail that will re-route one of the sections that is currently very steep and less safe. More than 15 volunteers came out to participate in constructing this new section of trail. 
 
What's happening this spring?
 
Renee: WTA will continue holding weekend-long trail building events at the Cherry Orchard. The goal is to complete one of the two loops. This will be the Lyle Cherry Orchard loop, an extension of the existing trail which is currently 2.5 miles one way. The work will extend the trail and change it from an out-and-back to a "lollipop loop" that will take people to new views and will take visitors to an area that is ideal for taking a break and looking out over the Columbia River.
 
What are the benefits to volunteering for trail work?
 
Renee: It’s an opportunity to get involved to help build the newest sections of trail in the Gorge, as well as make the Lyle Cherry Orchard experience more enjoyable once it’s complete. This loop work is the first phase of the three phases. In the fall we’ll be constructing the second loop, the "Lyle loop," which will give visitors a new perspective and will be all new trail. The last phase will be continued work on a section that will continue to the town of Lyle. This will benefit existing community businesses, including our business member the Lyle Hotel.
 
What's something most people don't know about Lyle?
 
Renee: My stepmom who’s from Italy said this: Lyle is like a mini-Tuscany in that it is rural and wide-open with dramatic views. It’s a small town, one of the quieter and less bustling Gorge communities, but with access to some of the best wineries in the Columbia Gorge. You can make a weekend out of staying in Lyle—it’s got trails, it’s got wine, it’s got history, it’s got the Klickitat River where the bald eagles come in for the winter, it’s a half-hour drive to the Maryhill Museum of Art. Lyle’s a little treasure of the Gorge.
 
Do cherries still grow in the Lyle Cherry Orchard?
 
Renee: Two ancient cherry trees in the orchard still bear fruit. But not enough to make a pie.
 

Get involved

If you are interested in becoming a trailblazer, join WTA this year for one or more work parties—you can make it a whole weekend of camping and trail-building, or just stay for a single day. Not only will you get to soak in the spectacular beauty of the area, but also be a part of building the newest trail in the Gorge. Just added: a pop-up work party on Thursday, Feb. 7
 
To sign up for upcoming Lyle Cherry Orchard weekend work parties or to learn about other ways on how you can help support land stewardship efforts in the Gorge, please visit Friends' volunteer events page.