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.
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