30 Years on the Trail

The Dalles Riverfront Trail brings a community back to its river roots
By Kathy Ursprung

From left, Dan Durow, Bruce Lumber, and Carolyn Rohde serve on the Riverfront Trail Inc. board. Their ties stretch back to the beginning of the trail effort.

When Dan Durow and a hardy group of fellow runners started having fun runs in The Dalles in the early 1980s, their Columbia River route meant scrambling across rugged basalt while dodging crevasses and other obstacles.

The river that was the reason The Dalles first formed was cut off from the city by freeway and railroad. It was a river city without a river.

Today, it doesn’t matter if you are on two wheels, four wheels, a wheelchair, or your own two feet, just about anyone can travel the shoreline along
The Dalles Riverfront Trail that Dan and fellow supporters helped make a reality.

“We liked running along the river course and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a trail along the river to run on?’” says Dan, who was Wasco County planning director at the time.

A few years later, the county received a National Park Service grant that helped staff develop The Dalles Riverfront Plan.

Along with smaller recreational amenities, the plan outlined a paved, accessible trail that hugged the river shore from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum through open spaces, industrial land, commercial districts, and parks to The Dalles Dam. Along the way, travelers glimpse not only vivid river scenery but native flora and fauna, ancient cultures, recent history, and modern industry.

Reviewing the plan involved a large committee of stakeholders: landowners, federal and state agencies, city and county government, and four Native American tribes with interests on the river.

About 30 people formed a community-based committee to provide input on the plan. Once the plan was completed and adopted by the city of The Dalles, Port of The Dalles, Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, and Wasco County, about 20 of those 30 people formed the Riverfront Trail Committee board. That committee evolved into The Dalles Riverfront Trail Inc. Although the group still refers to itself as a committee, it is an incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The Dalles Riverfront Trail passes through a variety of terrain, from natural to industrial areas

The committee oversees trail improvement and maintenance.

Dan Durow and Katy Young have been on the committee throughout its existence. Bruce Lumper has been on the committee for more than 10 years.

Carolyn Rohde’s father, Don, an engineer with Tenneson Engineering, was a founding member of the group. She has carried on the family legacy since 2002, not long after her father’s death.

“I feel honored to be able to fill that vacancy,” Carolyn says.

Like the trail itself, the path to its completion has been long and winding. Piece by piece, sections of the trail have come together during the past 25 years. It has been a collaboration in the grandest sense—from federal, state, and local agencies that provided land and easements for the trail, to public and private grants that helped fund the project, to local private businesses and individuals who have continued to donate their time, talents and cash to maintain and improve the trail.

“I love being able to add this amenity to the community with a true community effort,” Bruce says. “Many different folks play some role.”

“My favorite thing is hearing people who don’t know I’m involved with the trail talk about how much they love the trail,” Katy says.

A 1.4-mile section of the 10-mile trail remains incomplete, between The Dalles Marina and Seufert Park at The Dalles Dam. A grant matched with local fundraising was in place in 2011, but that portion of the trial has been put on hold indefinitely. The funds raised locally remain in a reserve fund for trail construction when a route is determined.

Benches scattered along the trail offer a range of scenic vistas.

Northern Wasco County Parks & Recreation District maintains day-to-day care of the trail. The Dalles Riverfront Trail Inc. oversees annual maintenance projects, which have been paid for through local fundraising.

Now that the youngest portions of the trail are almost 20 years old and the oldest are more than 25, the committee is faced with some major repair and maintenance needs.

Portions of one of the oldest sections of the trail—between the Discovery Center and the railroad underpass—need to be rebuilt. Pavement edges are crumbling and the base—and sub-base in some areas—needs to be replaced, and new asphalt and seal coat applied.

The entire trail, which has numerous patched cracks throughout its length, needs a seal coat to protect it from major decay. Each project is estimated to cost about $100,000. The committee is seeking funding solutions for these projects.

The longtime participants look back on this three-decade endeavor with pride, though they never thought it would take this long. Dan says the original plan showed five years to complete the trail.

“We were all suckered into that,” he says with a wry smile.

Committee members continue to look for ways to enhance the trail. They are exploring opportunities for improved signage, a new interpretive brochure, and added trailheads along the way. So far, the effort has been worth it.

“I remember the day when I realized all of the effort was worthwhile,” Dan says. “I came upon a gentleman just standing, looking out at the river. As I walked closer, he said, ‘Isn’t it a great day to be alive?’ He wouldn’t have been there without the trail.”

To contribute to Riverfront Trail maintenance projects, mail a check to The Dalles Riverfront Trail Inc., P.O. Box 2149, The Dalles, OR 97058.