Gift cards for beer, food, lodging help businesses recover from the impact of the Eagle Creek Fire

COURTESY: NICKIE BOURNIAS - Visitors (human and canine) are encouraged to local Cascade Locks businesses through the purchase of gift cards for future trips. North Portland resident Nickie Bournias and her adventure pup, Daisy, are avid hikers in the gorge; they recently took a trip to Thunder Island Brewing to show their support. Like everyone else in her community and the state of Oregon, Caroline Park watched in horror as the Eagle Creek Fire had grown in size in the three weeks since Labor Day weekend.

The co-owner of Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks went through shock, sadness and a range of other emotions as the fire has burned more than 48,000 acres and was 46 percent contained as of Sept. 20.

In the first few days of the fire, Park and her Cascade Locks neighbors launched into crisis mode, serving free meals to the fire crews with the tons of perishable food they had on hand to serve visitors on what's typically one of their biggest weekends of the year.

"We had 200 pounds of beef, 60 pound of chicken and pork, hundreds of buns," Park says. "We thought we'd put it to good use."

So the Brigham Fish Market, Cascade Locks Ale House, Cascade Inn and Thunder Island Brewing prepared and served food — lots of it — to the first responders and crews handling the crisis.

Inside and outside the community, there was an outpouring of support — with donations, offers to wash dishes and donated comfort items for the hikers who had to spend a night on the trail.

Hood River County Search & Rescue and other agencies helped rescue the 153 trapped hikers, and afterward raised more than $30,000 for those efforts in less than a week.

But, despite continuous efforts and even federal assistance, the fires have blazed on. Interstate 84 remained closed for quite awhile and so did the businesses.

There was no one coming from Portland, no one to serve.

COURTESY: THUNDER ISLAND BREWING - The Cascade Locks Strong movement is intended to build resiliency in the community. Interstate 84 eastbound from Portland was closed at Troutdale due to the fire and Highway 14 on the Washington side was at risk of landslides.But people still wanted to help in the recovery.

So Park put her technical skills to work, launching two GoFundMe accounts: to raise funds for gorge volunteer firefighter crews (raising $20,000 in two weeks) and for the four businesses that fed them (raising about $2,500).

Park also launched the Cascade Locks Strong campaign — a platform that allows people to purchase gift cards to various Cascade Locks establishments to help sustain them through the loss of business until spring.

Gift cards start at $10 and increase in various increments.

Businesses include: Thunder Island Brewing, Locks Waterfront Grill, Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, East Wind Drive-In, Locks of Dogs & Treats, Columbia Gorge Inn, Spruce Gifts and Provisions, and Columbia Market.

The community at the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge includes 1,200 residents, most of which rely on tourism to thrive.

"Some of my friends in town haven't worked in three weeks," Park says. "In a tipped restaurant environment, you're used to a certain amount of income."

Park says she expects the effort to continue throughout the fall and winter, which is also a hard time to sustain.

"Our business closed for eight days last winter during the ice storm," when I-84 was closed, Park says.

Other businesses faced the same predicament. "But in the winter, you expect to close," she says. "The fire was so unexpected. I call it the year of 'Game of Thrones' — fire and ice."

Ways to help

• Support Cascade Locks businesses: Purchase gift cards and links to their fire relief GoFundMe campaigns for firefighter crews and the businesses that are feeding them;

• Support the firefighters: A GoFundMe account directly supports the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association and Washington State Firefighters' Association;

• Support Friends of the Gorge: Become a member of this nonprofit, dedicated to making sure the gorge remains a national treasure for generations to come. The group will create plans for restoration and stewardship starting next spring;

• Support the National Forest Foundation: This organization is working with the U.S. Forest Service to support post-fire projects in the gorge. Funds will be dispersed to local organizations or local contractors to complete the needed stewardship and restoration work;

Check it out

What: Gorge on Tap, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Freebridge Brewing, 710 E. Second St., The Dalles.

Enjoy drinks and a presentation about gorge conservation threats and recreation projects.

Presenters include Michael Lang, Friends of the Columbia Gorge conservation director giving an update of the Eagle Creek Fire; Renee Tkach, project manager of The Dalles Connection, discussing Gorge Towns to Trails; Friends executive director Kevin Gorman giving an update on the Preserve the Wonder campaign; outreach manager Maegan Jossy presenting the "Best gorge hikes for fall foliage."

This event is free and open to the public; donations of $20 receive a free pint glass.

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