There is finally a reopening date for Highway 224, the only major route in the state that remains closed due to the historic Labor Day fires in 2020.
On Feb. 16, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced on its Facebook page that a 19-mile stretch of the road east of Estacada should be accessible to drivers starting May 1, barring any weather delays.
That news comes about three weeks after the agency said it had completed a major phase of the cleanup process: the removal of dead and dying trees that were lining the highway. Since then, crews have been replacing signs, installing new guardrails and repairing the pavement.
The Riverside Fire, just one of several blazes that broke out during a windstorm in September 2020, burned nearly 140,000 acres—most of it located in the Clackamas River Ranger District of the Mount Hood National Forest. According to the U.S. Forest Service, flames wiped out anywhere between 80% and 90% of the trees across much of that land.
The recent progress and reopening date is good news for area businesses that cater to recreationalists. Summer is a critical time for those vendors, which count on money brought in by local and out-of-state tourists who flock to the Clackamas River Corridor for rafting, camping and hiking. If the May 1 deadline is met, that means both travelers and outdoors outfitters could begin looking forward to Memorial Day weekend outings.
However, those plans should remain practical. Even when the highway reopens, the U.S. Forest Service plans to keep campgrounds, boat launches and many trails closed for the foreseeable future since they were so heavily damaged by the fire.
ODOT does promise, though, that there will be some points of access to the Clackamas River. Just be sure to expect occasional delays on the road since work will continue in the corridor through summer.
The timeline for the next several months includes installing more guardrail—8 miles have been erected so far, with an additional 3.7 miles to go. Crews will patch potholes and put up “Rough Road” signs in some locations, arborists continue to look for dead or dying trees that need to be removed, and a helicopter will haul away more charred timber this week from the high ridge.