Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Friends of the Columbia Gorge protects the scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge region. We do so by ensuring strict implementation of the National Scenic Area Act and other laws protecting the Columbia River Gorge; promoting responsible stewardship of Gorge lands; encouraging public ownership of sensitive areas; educating the public on the unique values of the Gorge; and working with groups and individuals to accomplish mutual preservation goals.
Feb 23, 2012

Successes, Celebration, New Challenges

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge saw great successes in its protection of the resources of the Columbia River Gorge. We launched a major community initiative to stop coal trains in the Gorge, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act, built support for the ambitious Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign and noted a quiet close to the proposed Cascade Locks Casino.

Here are some of the highlights of the fourth quarter of 2011:

- Stop Coal Trains in the Gorge. Right on the heels of Friends’ incredible victory setting the Boardman coal-fired power plant on a path to closure, the Gorge faces a major new threat from the coal industry.  Proposed coal export facilities in Washington state would be fed by an additional 20 to 30 coal trains thundering through the Gorge every day, each 1 ½ miles long, carrying coal in open cars.  BNSF Railway estimates that each car would lose 500 to 2,000 pounds of coal during transport.  Locomotive diesel emission and coal dust would significantly increase air pollution problems in the Gorge, and exporting millions of tons of coal would worsen climate change worldwide.  Friends’ is engaging communities throughout the Gorge to oppose coal export trains in the Columbia Gorge

- 25th Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act.  Friends’ culminated the anniversary with celebrations in Portland and Hood River, Oregon.  The two events were a grand finale to an amazing anniversary year.  Friends’ launched 25 Trails, 25 Years, a challenge to hike 25 trails in the Gorge.  More than 60 people hiked all 25!  Friends’ worked with Oregon Public Broadcasting on their 60-minute special about the National Scenic Area.  We dedicated the Nancy Russell Overlook at Cape Horn.  And through a settlement with PGE, we ensured a 2020 closure of the Boardman coal-fired power plan and secured $1 million for Gorge land acquisitions and enhancements.

- Gorge Towns to Trails: Making the ConnectionGorge Towns to Trails is a vision for a comprehensive trail system around the Columbia Gorge, linking communities with tourism, and highlighting and enhancing the beauty and wonder of the Columbia Gorge.  Launched in October 2011 at Mosier Plateau, volunteers, funders and the community of Mosier have come together in trail building to connect Pocket Park and Mosier Creek to the Plateau with its Gorge panoramas and Mosier Valley views.   Enthusiasm is building for this project, as Friends’ engages communities throughout the Gorge.

- Cascade Locks Casino Agreement Expires.  Just as the New Year began, the epic 12-year battle surrounding a proposal to build a massive casino in the heart o the Columbia Gorge apparently came to a quiet end.  On January 5, the Port of Cascade Locks decided to allow its agreement with the Warm Springs Tribes to expire.  Expiration of the option agreement means the end of the pending casino application.  The prospect of a massive casino in Cascade Locks faced stiff obstacles and strong opposition from thousands of Oregonians across the political spectrum, including Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  Opponents were concerned about the impact a sprawling casino complex would have on the Columbia Gorge and its rural communities.  The Warm Springs Tribes began construction of a new casino on tribal land along Highway 26, located some 80 miles south of the Columbia River.  The new project is projected to boost business revenues, create jobs and generate significant income for tribal members.

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Nov 17, 2011

Third Quarter 2011 Progress Report

Condit Dam is breached on October 26, 2011.
Condit Dam is breached on October 26, 2011.

In the third quarter of 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge saw great successes in its protection of the resources of the Columbia River Gorge. We achieved a major conservation milestone, worked to prevent damaging development, and made great strides in protecting sensitive lands for habitat preservation and recreation.

Friends also launched the most ambitious campaign in its history: The Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign seeks to create 60 new miles of Gorge trails, protect over 25,000 acres of habitat for threatened species, and connect trails directly with communities to stimulate economic development. Gorge Towns to Trails (T2T) is the only project working to achieve both purposes of the National Scenic Area Act: protection of Gorge resources, and economic development for Gorge communities. Friends has secured the first land purchases and started our first T2T trail project.

Here are some of the highlights of the third quarter of 2011:

- Removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. On October 26, Friends and its allies saw an enormous victory achieved: the breach of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. The 125-foot-tall dam had blocked salmon passage for over a century. Its removal opens 33 miles of habitat for endangered salmon, as well as recreation area for boaters and kayakers.

- Pressed for reconsideration of controversial wind energy proposal. Friends worked to oppose the Whistling Ridge wind energy project, which proposes to place 50 wind turbines, each 426 feet tall, on the ridgeline of the National Scenic Area. The project would damage unique scenic vistas, permanently convert forests to industrial use, and would adversely impact hawks, eagles, bats and the endangered Northern spotted owl. In fact, the project site is in a “Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area.”

Friends supports responsible development of renewable energy, but Whistling Ridge is not responsible. It is not critical to our energy needs and not worth sacrificing the unique resources of the Gorge.

Friends succeeded in pressing Washington State’s Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to modify the proposal, removing 15 turbines to protect scenic resources. But EFSEC still recommended the project be approved by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.  Friends is currently organizing letters to the editor and media to raise the profile of this issue.

- Secured the protection of critical lands. As part of the T2T Campaign, Friends secured the protection of a unique and sensitive 122-acre property in the eastern Gorge. The “Four Sisters” property is home to rare vernal pools, acres of wildflowers and sensitive habitat kept pristine by lack of grazing. The property could also serve as a vital connector for a 15-mile trail from Mosier, OR to The Dalles, OR. Friends was able to secure a conservation buyer, who acquired the property and will convey it to a public agency in the future. This acquisition is an enormous step forward for our Towns to Trails vision, protecting critical swaths of habitat while creating sustainable recreation opportunities.

- Created new recreation opportunities. The Cape Horn Overlook was formally dedicated on August 13, 2011, the culmination of over twenty-five years of effort to protect Cape Horn. The overlook, whose construction was funded by Friends in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service, honors Friends’ Founder and Gorge advocate Nancy Russell. Nancy was instrumental not only in protecting the entire top of Cape Horn, but in protecting hundreds of acres throughout the Gorge, preventing development and degradation.

The Cape Horn Overlook is the crown jewel in the new Cape Horn Trail, which recently became an official trail managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The overlook provides a previously-unaccessible viewpoint that rivals the best in the Gorge.

Furthermore, Friends has made progress in constructing the Mosier Plateau Trail, the first project in our T2T Campaign. The Mosier Plateau Trail will connect from the Mosier Plateau, a bluff owned by Friends’ Land Trust above the city of Mosier, OR, to the Mosier City Park, site of Mosier Creek Falls and a beautiful swimming hole. Visitors will be able to access the trail directly from the urban area of Mosier. The project will provide nearly two miles of new trail and scenic views previously unavailable to the public.

Friends and our volunteers broke ground on trail construction on Friends’ Land Trust property in October and November. We plan to take a break for the wet winter months and resume work in the Spring, planning to complete most of the trail in 2012.

Friends looks forward to even greater successes in this 25th Anniversary year of Gorge protection -- as well as to the November 2011 birthday bash for the National Scenic Area!

* Photos of Condit Dam courtesy of PacifiCorp.

The White Salmon River roars free
The White Salmon River roars free
The "Four Sisters" property in the eastern Gorge.
The "Four Sisters" property in the eastern Gorge.
View from the Cape Horn Overlook (Ken Denis)
View from the Cape Horn Overlook (Ken Denis)

Links:

Aug 12, 2011

Second Quarter 2011 Progress Report

Cape Horn Trail provides this breathtaking view.
Cape Horn Trail provides this breathtaking view.

The second quarter of 2011 saw extraordinary gains for Gorge air quality, restoration of the White Salmon River, and recreation projects throughout the Gorge, as well as outdoor education for Gorge middle-school students. These gains are all the more powerful as they occurred in this 25th Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

Between May-July 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge:

- Secured the 2020 shutdown of the PGE Boardman coal-fired power plant. PGE's coal-fired power plant in Boardman, OR has been operating since its inception without pollution controls. It is the #1 source of haze-causing pollutants in Oregon, the state's biggest contributor to global warming, and is responsible for up to 50% of the air pollution in the Columbia Gorge when Gorge air quality is at its worst.

In July 2011, a settlement was reached between Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a coalition of five other environmental groups, and PGE. The agreement cuts the amount of sulfur dioxide PGE can emit by at least 3,000 tons below the requirements of state rules passed in December 2010, and it requires the plant to cease burning coal by the end of 2020. The agreement also requires PGE to pay $2.5 million into a fund for environmental restoration and job-creating clean energy projects in Oregon.

This settlement is a huge victory for Gorge air quality and for the health of those who live and recreate in the region.

- Helped secure the removal of Condit Dam, restoring the White Salmon River. For several years, Friends has worked with allies Friends of the White Salmon and others to secure removal of Condit Dam, which has blocked fish passage on the White Salmon River since 1913. The dam is now scheduled to be breached and removed on October 26, 2011.

Removal of the dam will restore a free-flowing river and reopen areas for fishing and whitewater recreation. The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that dam removal will reopen 33 miles of habitat for steelhead and 14 miles for salmon. The dam will be the second-highest dam removed to date in the United States.

- Provided outdoor education to over 200 middle-school students living in the Gorge. Through the Clausen Youth Education Program, Friends provided environmental education to the sixth-grade students of Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek Middle Schools in Clark County, WA. Many of these students live in the Columbia Gorge, and many expressed little knowledge of the wonders "right in their backyard" before the program. Friends and volunteers led the students in a restoration project planting trees, in learning about plant ecology, on a hike and scavenger hunt, and in a presentation on Lewis & Clark history (complete with hatchet-throwing and salmon jerky). Teachers and students alike gave rave reviews for the outdoor experience and the education they gained. Friends looks forward to conducting the program for a fifth year in 2012, and expanding the program to other school systems in the future.

- Helped create new recreation opportunities through the National Scenic Area. Friends has worked for over 25 years to establish a park and trail at Cape Horn, a bluff near Washougal, WA. In August, Friends will oversee the dedication of the Cape Horn Overlook, a new viewpoint on the Cape Horn Trail providing breathtaking views of the Gorge. The viewpoint stands on the site of what was once a 5,000-square-foot home; Friends' Land Trust purchased the home in 2006, removed it, recycled 70% of the materials, and conveyed the property to the U.S. Forest Service. Now it and its scenic beauty are public for all to enjoy.

Moreover, Friends is working to complete the Mosier Plateau Trail, the first project in our Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign. The Mosier Plateau Trail will connect from the Mosier Plateau, a bluff owned by Friends Land Trust above the city of Mosier, OR, to the Mosier City Park, site of Mosier Creek Falls and a beautiful swimming hole. Visitors will be able to access the trail directly from the urban area of Mosier. The project will provide nearly two miles of new trail and scenic views previously unavailable to the public.

Friends looks forward to even greater successes in this 25th Anniversary year of Gorge protection -- as well as to the November 2011 birthday bash for the National Scenic Area!

Condit Dam will soon be a memory.
Condit Dam will soon be a memory.
Boardman settlement will reduce Gorge haze.
Boardman settlement will reduce Gorge haze.

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