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, 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 blossomed 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 Or
chard preserve to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust. 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. What’s happened with the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail the past few months? “This past November, after close to a decade of planning, Friends received final approval from the Co
lumbia River Gorge Commission to start construction on two new loops that will eventually add three new miles to the current Lyle
Cherry Orchard trail,” said Gorge Towns to Trails Project Manager Renee Tkach. “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 sec
tion of trail.” According to Tkach, 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. “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,” Tkach said.