After Fire, Landslide Risk Keeps Columbia Gorge’s Multnomah Falls Closed For Foreseeable Future

The fire danger at Oregon's Multnomah Falls has declined, but the famous landmark won't be reopening anytime soon. IAN C. BATES

Now that the fall rains have begun, the fire danger at Multnomah Falls has declined. But Oregon’s popular gem still won’t open anytime soon.
 
The famous landmark sees more than 2 million visitors per year according to the U.S. Forest Service. But it’s been closed since the massive wildfires hit the Columbia River Gorge in September.
 
Experts say the falls and the old highway that leads up to it are highly dangerous. And much of it has to do with moss.
The moss has been burnt away by the fires—and that used to be the glue holding basalt cliffs together on these steep slopes.
 
Rachel Pawlitz is with the U.S. Forest Service that manages the falls and the popular hiking areas around it.
 
“One of the biggest risks to the visitors here is the combined effect of the moss having burned off which was a glue holding it together, and the freezing and thawing effect over the winter which will just create cracks in the rock,” Pawlitz said. “Those two things together will just cause rocks to peel off the side of the cliff and fall at intervals that we can’t predict.”
 
Although cleared often, fresh rock—some the size of basketballs—litter the old highway up to the falls. And Pawlitz said rocks could also fall on the viewing platforms and parts of the popular lodge.

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