Guest blog by Kate Harbour
Friends of the Columbia Gorge, an Oregon-based nonprofit group, has successfully completed its Preserve the Wonder campaign, raising a total of $5.6 million, with the help of a generous $45,000 grant from the Conservation Alliance. The land-preservation campaign has allowed Friends to purchase and permanently protect eight, different properties (seven acquired with funds raised by the campaign, one additional property donated in response to the effort) totaling 470 acres of land along the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. The land-preservation campaign is one of the largest to be completed in the Gorge since it was designated as a national scenic area by Congress in 1986.
Publicly launched in 2017, the Preserve the Wonder campaign is the culmination of over a decade of planning by Friends’ land trust to identify properties that preserved scenic beauty, protected native forests and savannas, offered opportunities to enhance wildlife habitat and created new hiking trail connections. In total, over 1,600 people from 23 states and the District of Columbia gave to the campaign, with gifts ranging from $5 to $1 million. Community outreach also resulted in the donation this spring of 50 acres of beautiful Douglas-fir woodlands near the Duncan Creek area in Southwest Washington.
“One of the most impressive aspects of the Columbia Gorge is its uncanny ability to bring together so many people—from across the political spectrum and from around the Pacific Northwest—in a united effort to conserve and protect one of our nation’s natural wonders,” said Friends Executive Director Kevin Gorman. “I’m awestruck by the response to this campaign. And thanks to the generosity of the public, Friends now will be able to ensure that 470 acres in the Gorge are permanently protected from logging or development,” Gorman added.
One of the largest land owners in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Friends’ land trust has conserved 26 sites across the Gorge for a total of over 1,500 acres. Friends’ land acquisitions have preserved vital habitat for countless species and opened up thousands of acres of land previously off-limits to the public over the past decade.
Properties protected as part of the recently completed Preserve the Wonder campaign include:
- Steigerwald Shores(160 acres) – Adjacent to the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, this partially-developed property will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the refuge and undertake the largest salmon habitat restoration project in the Columbia Gorge in modern history.
- Upland Oaks(55 acres) – Located on the hillside above the Steigerwald Refuge, this woodland property will permanently protect white oak habitat for countless migratory birds and threatened species such as the Lewis’ woodpecker and western gray squirrel.
- Cape Horn Vista (58 acres) – This beautiful property near the popular Cape Horn Trail blankets the side of a bluff and offers a magnificent view of the Gorge. The land is currently fenced off from hikers, routing them away from the expansive scenery of the Columbia River.
- Duncan Creek (50 acres) – This 50-acre woodland of Douglas fir near Duncan Creek sits between two large swaths of public land. Purchase of this land protects it from logging and makes a 17-mile trail from Cape Horn to Beacon Rock possible.
- Turtle Haven (64 acres) – This land is truly a haven for turtles, in particular, the western pond turtle. Once plentiful from Canada to Baja, this turtle is now listed as extinct in Canada and is in peril throughout Washington and Oregon. For more than 20 years, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Zoo have collaborated on restoration efforts with the private landowner to restore the turtle population.
- Coyote Meadow (10 acres) – This small piece of private property is wooded with white oak and is surrounded by the publicly managed lands of Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek, an area renowned for its hiking, mountain biking and wildflower photography. Prior to protection, this property made consistent management of the land for recreational and habitat purposes very difficult.
- Lyle Peak(25 acres) – Situated above Friends’ 550-acre Lyle Cherry Orchard property (near Lyle, WA), this land will provide feeding, resting and breeding habitat for wildlife as well as opportunities for future trail connections with iconic views of the Gorge.
“The fundraising may be over, but the work to enhance wildlife habitat and build new trail connections around the Gorge has just begun,” said Friends Land Trust Director Dan Bell. “The acquisition of a property like Steigerwald Shores will provide a historic opportunity to enhance two miles of wetland channels and provide critical, new resting habitat for salmon in the Gorge. It’s a testament to the key role local land trusts can play in working with land owners and public agencies to ensure the Gorge remains a treasure for generations to come,” Bell added.
Encompassing the second oldest national scenic area in the United States, the Columbia Gorge is home to 800 species of wildflowers, the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America and more than 200 species of birds. The national scenic area contains 13 urban areas and is visited annually by millions from across the globe. In September 2017, a devastating fire started near the Eagle Creek trailhead, scorching over 48,000 acres of land on both sides of the Gorge.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a community-based, nonprofit organization with over 8,000 members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Friends maintain an office in Portland, OR as well as in two Gorge towns—Hood River, OR and Washougal, WA.