Reflections on the Second Round of Surveys

Over the course of this past weekend, I collected 22 more survey responses from visitors at Multnomah and Latourell Falls. This round was unique as I got to speak with a few staff members at the Multnomah Falls visitor center. Both staff members showed great concern about the impacts of increased visitation and access limitation after the Eagle Creek Fire. According to the staff members, the Eagle Creek Fire eased visitor related degradation at places like the Oneonta Gorge and above Multnomah Falls. Recent inaccessibility from the fire allowed the area to remain trash free for the time being and has allowed the stream bed to recover slightly from being tread upon by hundreds of visitors daily. Limiting access to smaller areas also condenses pollution (mainly trash left by  visitors) allowing for a more efficient clean up. However, these slight benefits stemming from recent inaccessibility are outweighed by fire damage resulting in heightened rates of erosion and water pollution. They also spoke about re-constructing the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway to be a one-way road to better regulate crowding and limit the flow of traffic into the Multnomah Falls area. Although I’d imagine that a one-way road would be safer for bicyclists, it seems like doing this would still result in crowding at Multnomah Falls since no changes will be made to the immediate waterfall area and the trail above Multnomah will remain closed for the time being.

Upon collecting more survey responses, a greater variety of trends have surfaced. This was particularly evident with regards to why people visited Latourell Falls. Despite photography and website information remaining a prime motivator, several respondents noted partial visibility as a draw – a “teaser” view. People can witness a partial, yet striking view of Latourell’s lofty plunge as they speed down the Historic Highway. Catching a glimpse of such an impressive waterfall tucked away in a roadside canyon begs for further exploration. Such was the case for a visitor from the Los Angeles area, stating that she went to the gorge “for a relaxing and awe inspiring outdoor experience” but stopped at Latourell Falls in particular because she “was driving and caught a glimpse of the waterfall from the road. My curiosity was incited so I had to stop.” This type of view is described by author Brian J. Hudson as “partial concealment” – an important visual component of the picturesque. Qualities of the waterfall itself like mist or spray can also contribute to this phenomenon – adding to a waterfall’s mystique. Despite partial concealment adding to the allure of a waterfall, some hidden qualities of a waterfall “may be so great as to impair the scenic quality, and at many of the more popular waterfalls vegetation has been cleared and viewing platforms, even bridges, have been constructed to provide better, less obstructed views” (Hudson, 2000). This is certainly the case at both Multnomah and Latourell Falls. A prime example of such infrastructure is the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. The bridge allows for a striking (and unobstructed) view that is unattainable from anywhere else. Clearing of vegetation, viewing platforms, and bridges are also present at Latourell. 

Changes in waterfall discharge also impacted people’s responses – particularly at Multnomah Falls. Flow was much higher this past weekend than it was two weeks ago when I did my first round of surveys. During my first round of surveys at Multnomah, nobody mentioned stream discharge as a compelling aspect of the waterfall. Respondents generally credited waterfall height, the Benson Bridge, autumn leaves, and the mountainous surroundings as the most striking landscape characteristics. Low flow was disappointing to some visitors, especially people who had been there before. One respondent mentioned how Multnomah was “different than remembered – less water and more crowded from the fire closing so many trails.” Despite the combination of low flow and high visitation detracting from some people’s experiences, visitors remained generally satisfied with their time at Multnomah Falls.

Responses differed this past weekend when discharge increased greatly from heavy rains over the week before. Several respondents were floored by the sheer magnitude of the waterfall – crowds and the surrounding landscape didn’t phase them. The falls were so large that they commanded full attention. High flow had an especially strong impact on people from drier areas. One respondent from the Oakland, California remarked how the falls were “much more striking and powerful in person. There is so much water! I’m not used to seeing places like this in the Bay Area.” Another remarked that the “high flow in the falls today was spectacular.” It is clear from my second round of surveillance that stream flow has a significant impact on the waterfall experience. Ratings of Multnomah’s scenic beauty also increased with the average rating for this weekend being an “8” in comparison to a “7” last weekend. Scenic Beauty ratings of Latourell Falls remained the same, generally an “8” or “9” which is compelling given that the stream flow at Latourell was only slightly higher this weekend than last. Going forward, I’m interested to see how fluctuations in discharge at both Multnomah and Latourell Falls will impact people’s responses.

Bibliography 

Hudson, B.J. “The Experience of Waterfalls.” Australian Geographical Studies 38, no. 1 (2000): 71-84.

-Link to survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/135bwjowVV3CheV8tluMIhaKRyEu-fO1U-29nitFjHA0/edit

 

 

 

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