Columbia Gorge Commission prepares new management plan
The Columbia River Gorge is changing. That means the public management plan guiding the scenic area is changing, too.
Citizens have made more than 400 public comments regarding the upcoming revisions to the plan drawn up by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the 13-member committee that oversees the 83-mile-long riverside corridor in Oregon and Washington.
When finished in spring 2020, the government guidelines are expected to add new rules for everything from cideries to solar panels in the scenic area — topics that weren't addressed when the plan was previously updated in 2004 or created by an act of U.S. Congress in 1987.
Here's a breakdown of the four topics that are expected to change the most.
Urban Area Boundaries
Urban Area Boundaries, essentially, define where the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area isn't.
Congress originally carved out 13 "urban" cities in the Gorge, and indicated that minor alterations could be made to those boundary lines. Corbett in East Multnomah County isn't considered a city, but merely a rural center.
The problem is that there's no written procedure for map amendments, which could be used if Hood River or The Dalles wanted to build new subdivisions by slightly shrinking the 292,000-acre scenic area.
"They were just Magic Markers drawn on the map," explains Krystyna Wolniakowski, executive director of the commission. "We need to have a public process for how that's defined, if you can prove that it's a need."
Urban Area Boundaries are different than Metro's urban growth boundaries, which set aside reserves of land that can cope with the next 20 years of development.
New land uses
As locals already know, development in the scenic area is tightly restricted by rules that can decide the color of house paint or forbid construction that would alter the view from an iconic lookout like Crown Point.
But as times have changed, new uses have cropped up, like the glinting reflection caused by rooftop solar panels. There are also new agriculture uses, including vineyards and cideries. The revised plan needs language that reflects what actually goes on in the gorge.
"The whole point is we want to protect the national scenic area even as (we) accommodate landowners' wishes to build," says Wolniakowski, who has been with the Commission for about three years.
Breeze through the 400-page gorge management plan, and you'll notice that only about two pages focus on economic matters.
Wolniakowski says the Gorge Commission is mostly focused on preserving forestland for foresters and agricultural land for farmers. But there's always room for improvement.
"We do get criticism that the Gorge Commission isn't doing enough for quote-unquote economic vitality," she notes. "We haven't been very clear."
An estimated 2.5 million recreationists visit the Columbia River Gorge each year, a number that Wolniakowski says is expected to grow.
The Gorge Commission only makes rules for privately-held land, while the U.S. Forest Service is in charge of public land and numerous campsites and trails.
But the commission wants to include more planning for addressing transportation and overcrowding at park sites.