Historic Overview
Existing Conditions
Assessment and Analysis
Preservation Philosophy
Implementation and Management
Outreach and Education
Historic Preservation Philosophy and Approach

In 1981, the National Park Service completed a comprehensive study of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) and issued several documents. One volume, entitled Options for Conservation and Reuse, developed strategies for preserving and rehabilitating the highway while returning selected landscape components to an earlier appearance based on historical documentation.

"Eagles Nest"
A masonry pedestrian alcove on the Tanner Creek to Eagle Creek section of the HCRH State Trail. This feature and adjacent masonry guard walls were created as part of the rehabilitation project on this section of the HCRH. (Photo by James B. Norman, 1998)

The impetus for the majority of the historic preservation projects along the Highway is found in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-663.) The Act directs the Oregon Department of Transportation to, "prepare a program and undertake efforts to preserve and restore the continuity and historic integrity of the remaining segments of the Old Columbia River Highway for public use as a Historic Road, including recreation trails to connect intact and usable segments."

In 1987, A Study of the Historic Columbia River Highway, proposed that the western and eastern drivable portions of the highway, some 40 miles, be maintained for motor vehicle and bicycle use. It recommended rehabilitation of the extant abandoned segments of the road for non-motorized use (bikes, pedestrians, wheelchairs), and construction of trails to provide continuity. The portions of the HCRH designated for non-motorized use became known as the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

The Oregon Legislature in 1987 created the Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee, to advise ODOT and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department regarding historic preservation projects along the Highway. The Advisory Committee is composed of two citizen members from Multnomah, Hood River, and Wasco counties, along with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Officer and representatives from the departments of transportation, parks, and recreation and the Oregon Tourism Commission.

In 1996, ODOT prepared a master plan that provides direction for rehabilitating the Highway and constructing connecting trails between abandoned segments. Central to this document are "vision" statements for twelve sections of the Highway. The overriding goal here was to return the HCRH to its 1922 appearance, when the route was completed. The Oregon Transportation Commission has long supported this philosophy. In the mid-1980s, the Commission took the position that the HCRH should be restored and acknowledged that such work might "not reflect current design standards." This policy has been used repeatedly as the basis for "design exceptions." Project work on the Highway follow the Standards for Rehabilitation contained in the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes.

View from Rowena Crest. (Photo courtesy Robert Hadlow, Ph.D.)

The 1992 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Management Plan, forbids any undertaking that has an "adverse effect" on cultural resources, as defined by 36 CFR 800. This is more restrictive than the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, most undertakings in the National Scenic Area, whether on the Highway or elsewhere, must be "visually subordinate" as seen from "key viewing areas." That is, they must not be obvious to the casual observer. Both regulations insure that rehabilitation plans for the Highway are sensitive to the Gorge's designed and natural landscapes.

The CRGNSA "Corridor Visual Inventory," prepared in 1990, identified 26 sites along the Highway where scenic enhancement or mitigation should occur. The Management Plan directs agencies to implement recommendations in the "Inventory." These include creating or redefining the historic openings in vegetation along the HCRH to "provide or improve views of the Columbia River and the walls of the Gorge in a manner that does not adversely affect the scenic, cultural, natural, or recreation resources of the Scenic Area." With several partner agencies ODOT is working to implement the Inventory's recommendations on the highway and State Trail. The Management Plan also includes State Trail projects in its Recreation Development Plan.