Volunteers in the Gorge help look after the scenic area
Dave Mysinger peered over the stone-walled viewpoint near Vista House. There, stuck at the very edge of the cliff and just out of reach, are three or four plastic bags of household garbage.
'Sometimes, I wish they they'd just leave it by the side of the road here, so it would be easier to pick up,' he says in dismay.
But Mysinger is soon distracted. A Texas couple stops to take a photo and Mysinger, wearing his vest and insignia as a Volunteer in the Gorge, reminds them not to leave anything of value in their vehicle.
Bob Brown, a retired cop from Austin, Texas, knows better. He's seen it all, he says. He and Mysinger mourn the good old days when you could leave your keys in your car. But no more.
Once a week, Mysinger, who has lived in Corbett 30 years, tours the gorge in his own car at his own cost, just to keep watch. The organization, founded by Oregon State Police Officer Craig Joseph, now retired, is dedicated to promoting public safety and preserving the gorge while educating the public about the national scenic area.
The more eyes on remote parking lots, trailheads and viewpoints, the better. In an average day, Mysinger will circle through the state parks, check in at Vista House and at the post office in Bridal Veil, report in at Multnomah Falls and work his way east to Cascade Locks and sometimes as far as Mosier and the Twin Tunnel trailheads.
He notes license plates and suspicious behavior. He pays particular attention to those cars in fee areas that don't have permits - and will sometimes issue a warning.
Like most gorge regulars, he frets about the number of car break-ins, and figures that a vehicle driver unwilling to pay a park user fee is worth a second look.
He watches for what is out of place and what is normal.
'That must be Mershon's dog,' he says nodding to an aged golden retriever ambling down the bike line. 'He has grandfather rights.'
He notes the silver car of a 'regular' at Dabney Park and spots the owner later, walking the wooded trails and picking up trash.
Mysinger carries trash bags to pick up litter. The coffee cups and drink bottles strung along the mossy roadside frustrate him. And cigarette butts flung from cars generate a scolding from his flashing headlights.
'I'd like to see fines doubled in scenic areas for littering and especially for cigarette butts,' he says.
Mysinger and other gorge volunteers are armed only with conviction. But they offer training in public contacts (verbal judo), traffic safety, communications, first aid and CPR, and a half-dozen other skills, making them useful to authorities and visitors alike. Just to start, the organization's brochure lists every restroom on the scenic highway from Troutdale to Cascade Locks.
He and his group baby-sit certain sites at night - the art show at Multnomah Falls, and Vista House on Halloween. With a serial robber striking gorge visitors in the dark, he worries about people who park at Vista House in the evening.
'If you are the last car there, you better leave,' he advises. 'If you are going to hike at Eagle Creek, park your car in the front lot where there is more visibility.'
Volunteers in the Gorge has between 25 to 30 members. Two others help with weekly patrols of the area. More are needed. But with gasoline costs going up and members using their own vehicles, it is harder to find people to fill the need, Mysinger admits.
He is just retired from Baxter Auto Parks. His weekly tours cost him $12 to $15 a week in gasoline. The gain, he admits, is a day in the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.
'There are benefits,' he says with a smile.
Meetings for volunteers
Volunteers in the Gorge meets on the first Monday of each month (May 5) at 7 p.m. in the Troutdale Conference Building, Second and Buxton streets. All volunteers are subject to an Oregon State Police criminal check.
Call 503-969-1940 or visit www.volunteersinthegorge.org