Columbia River Gorge

Vista House and the Columbia River GorgeVista House and the Columbia River GorgePhoto credit: NPS/Jeff Olson

Vista HousePhoto credit: Peter Marbach

Stretching 85 miles along the border between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge encompasses more than 290,000 acres of ecologically and culturally significant terrain. The Columbia River Gorge is home to towering waterfalls and 800 species of wildflowers, 15 of which are found nowhere else in the world. The Nez Pierce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes hold sacred cultural and spiritual connections to the Columbia River Gorge. Every year, residents and visitors from near and far find quiet adventure along hundreds of miles of trails in the Gorge.
Hikes up Dog Mountain and sweeping views from the top of Beacon Rock define the Columbia River Gorge we know and love today. But 40 years ago, the future of the Gorge’s wildlands was far from certain. In the 1960s and 70s, rapid growth in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area threatened to encroach on the Gorge’s rolling hills and dramatic canyons. Signs promising lots for sale sprung up on land once visited by hikers in search of wildflowers. In response, local leaders and residents of neighboring Portland and Vancouver organized to save the Gorge they loved.
Residents and congressional leaders advocated to protect the Columbia River Gorge once and for all as a national scenic area. The Trust for Public Land went to work conserving wildlands and stood alongside local leaders calling for designation as a national scenic area. At the time, designation was controversial. Some worried that designation as a national scenic area would stall economic growth. Today, decades later, the millions of visitors drawn to the Gorge each year for outdoor adventure support a thriving recreation-based economy. The unique quality of life defined largely by outdoor access attracts new businesses to the area, creating new jobs and strengthening the local economy. The Columbia River Gorge Commission, established by the scenic area designation, continues to navigate the pressures of a growing region and the resounding call to protect the Gorge’s iconic landscape. The concerned residents and advocates that called for the protection of the Gorge founded the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a nonprofit organization that continues to protect and steward wildlands along the Gorge today.
Since 1979, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than 17,000 acres in the Gorge through more than 65 land transactions. Last year, we conveyed Camas Field to the Friends of Columbia Gorge for their careful stewardship. Camas Field is perched above the Columbia River with expansive views and important habitat for camas, a flowering root with cultural significance for local tribes. During wildflower season, Camas Field is a popular hiking destination for visitors from near and far.
About a third of the 85-mile-long National Scenic Area is protected in public ownership – the rest remains privately-owned. The Trust for Public Land continues to work with local organizations to realize the community’s vision for a wild and scenic future that conserves the iconic highlands, promotes sustainable growth, and supports a vibrant local economy.

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Since 1972, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than 3.3 million acres and completed more than 5,400 park and conservation projects.