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Friends of the Columbia Gorge launches public campaign to acquire seven natural areas north of the river

COURTESY: FRIENDS OF THE COLUMBIA GORGE - The nonprofit Friends of the Columbia Gorge is working to acquire the 160-acre Steigerwald Shores, the crown jewel of its Preserve the Wonder campaign, so the land can remain protected from development and open to the public for recreation. Many of us take for granted that, thanks to Oregon State Parks' vision a century ago, we can hike, paddle and wander almost anywhere along the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge — from Multnomah Falls and Rowena Crest to the Vista House, Rooster Rock, Hood River and beyond.

That's not the case on the Washington side of the gorge, which also is stunning but includes many sites that are closed off to the public.

COURTESY: FRIENDS OF THE COLUMBIA GORGE - Cape Horn Vista is one of the most scenic viewpoints along the Columbia River Gorge.For instance, Cape Horn Vista in Washougal, Wash., 25 miles east of Portland International Airport, is a pristine natural area, with 58 acres of wooded trails and expansive views along the bluff, looking across the river to Bridal Veil.

It's "one of the more stunning viewpoints of the entire Columbia River Gorge," says Kevin Gorman, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Yet the land is fenced off from hikers, and under threat of logging, mining and private development.

That's why the Friends group is launching its public Preserve the Wonder campaign, a a fundraising effort to acquire seven properties on the north side of the gorge and open them up for public enjoyment.

The group started quietly by raising $3.6 million toward its $5.5 million goal through its own members. They're now looking to the public to raise another $1.9 million in one year.

"We've never done anything on this scale before," Gorman says. "It takes years to put together."

The Friends have been working with some of the landowners for several years, he says. "It's a long journey."

Eighty percent of the funds raised will go directly to land acquisition costs, Gorman says. The rest will go toward the Friends' related Gorge Towns to Trails project. That's the effort to forge a 200-mile trail system around both the Washington and Oregon sides of the gorge, connecting the small towns with trails that connect to farms, wineries and wild areas.

The largest of the Preserve the Wonder campaign properties is Steigerwald Shores, a 160-acre space of riverfront bluff adjacent to Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, across the river from the town of Corbett.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge has a contract to acquire the property in the next two to three years, which will enable it to expand the refuge, extend the riverfront walking trail, and stop the development of multiple homes that would be visible from Crown Point's Vista House.

The advocates also will return the farmland back to wetlands, which will increase habitat for salmon and birds to 900 acres.

"When they breach the dikes, all the water will flood in, re-naturalize Gibbons Creek and increase this resting habitat for salmon" by 17 percent, Gorman says.

The community is behind the project, since breaching the dikes will relieve the downstream flooding that homeowners face each year.

The other campaign sites include Upland Oaks, Duncan Creek, Turtle Haven, Coyote Meadow and Lyle Peak, as well as Cape Horn Vista. They range from 10 to 64 acres, each with its own beauty and back story. The sites come to 420 acres in all.

Gorman says the Preserve the Wonder campaign is a big request, but hopes it will resonate with the public as something people can do in light of the Trump administration's dismantling of environmental policies and protections.

"We have to rethink how we do work in this new world," he says. "We're not going to let a difficult political situation drive our agenda."

@jenmomanderson

Ways to Preserve the Wonder

• Donate online: https://gorgefriends.org/ways-to-give/preserve-the-wonder.html

• Come to the Friends of the Columbia Gorge 37th-annual Picnic in Paradise, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 9, at Thunder Island at Marine Park, Cascade Locks. Enjoy live music, a potluck, beer and Preserve the Wonder activities; https://gorgefriends.org/summerpicnic

• Buy a Preserve the Wonder IPA at 54-40 Brewing in Washougal, Wash. A dollar per pint is donated to the campaign; http://54-40brewing.com/

• Enter the Preserve the Wonder photo contest and share your photos on social media. Enter by Sept. 10 (in any of these categories: cultural, scenic, waterfall, wildflower, wildlife) for a chance to win various prizes. https://gorgefriends.org/photocontest

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