History and Accomplishments

View from The Shire, John Yeon's property across from Multnomah Falls.
A meeting of concerned citizens here in 1980 led to the formation of Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the campaign for federal protection of the Gorge.

In the early 1900s, the hidden beauty of the Columbia Gorge was discovered by the public through the construction of the Columbia River Highway. News of the highway plans quickly led to outlandish proposals such as the world tallest elevator just west of Mist Falls, a golf course and polo grounds at Devils Rest and a power plant drawing energy from Wahkeena Falls.

But just as developers were discovering the Gorge, so were naturalists, photographers and civic-minded officials who called for leaving the Gorge wild and beautiful and proposed it for national park status in 1916.

Over the decades, the Gorge’s unique qualities and proximity to Portland continued to spur development proposals that could have destroyed the Gorge. But each time, ordinary people stood up to stop golf courses, amusement parks, power plants, and the list goes on.

In the late 1970s, the National Park Service conducted a study on the Columbia Gorge for national park status just as plans were being made to build the I-205 bridge. Concerned citizens understood the marching sprawl facing Portland and Vancouver would eventually creep east into the Columbia Gorge and recognized the opportunity to call for federal protection of the Gorge. The call for protection was reinforced as proposals for subdivisions across from Multnomah Falls, on top of Cape Horn and near Beacon Rock popped in anticipation of the bridge allowing commuters a quicker drive into Portland and Vancouver.

Creation of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

The inspiration for Friends of the Columbia Gorge came at a July 1980 picnic put on by The Committee to Save the Gorge (view a list of original members) at The Shire, a property across from Multnomah Falls and owned by John Yeon. The committee brought together a group of concerned citizens to discuss federal protection of the Columbia River Gorge.

A few months later, Friends of the Columbia Gorge was launched and set in motion efforts for a bi-state, congressionally designated area. Led by Founder Nancy Russell, the board of directors included two former governors and a Multnomah County Chair. In 1986, Friends helped secure the passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act to create comprehensive and consistent Gorge protection across six counties and two states. The legislation created the Columbia River Gorge Commission and designated the U.S. Forest Service as the lead agency. It was a one-of-a-kind legislative designation that to this day has no equivalent model across the nation.

Since passage of the National Scenic Area Act, Friends has helped bring more than 38,000 acres of private land into public ownership; commented on approximately 250 development applications in the Gorge per year; and educated the public about the Gorge with more than 100 free hikes annually. In 2005, Friends created Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust, a 509(a)(3) supporting organization to acquire critical lands in the Columbia Gorge. Since then, the land trust has acquired through purchase and donation over 1,000 acres of land.

Today, Friends of the Columbia Gorge is the only non-profit organization dedicated entirely to protecting the Columbia River Gorge. With a board of directors of 20, a staff of 13, offices in Portland, Hood River, and Washougal, and more than 5,000 members in Oregon, Washington and beyond, Friends of the Columbia Gorge is uniquely suited to ensuring that the wild and beautiful Columbia Gorge remains a place apart, an unspoiled treasure for generations to come.

Video25th Anniversary of Friends of the Columbia Gorge
VideoCampaign for Cape Horn
VideoColumbia Gorge: Fight for Paradise (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2011)

Major Accomplishments

1980 Friends of the Columbia Gorge founded.
1981 Friends’ lawsuit blocks 21-lot Rizor subdivision directly across from Multnomah Falls.
1986 Friends’ intensive lobbying with numerous conservation groups leads to passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.
1990 Friends intervenes in lawsuit challenging constitutionality of the Scenic Area Act. U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, ending the threat.
1992 Friends intervenes in first major "takings" lawsuit. The Birkenfeld lawsuit is dismissed by the U.S. District Court.
1997 Friends works with the Fair Deal Committee, a Gorge landowner group, to secure $8 million in federal funding to purchase scenic and sensitive lands.
1998 Friends works with 30 other organizations, businesses and individuals to create the Columbia River Gorge Vision 2000 Campaign.
1998 Friends works with the Washington Division of Natural Resources to adopt the Columbia Gorge Forest Protection Rules, creating stronger logging standards in Washington State.
1999 Friends successfully lobbies Oregon Governor Kitzhaber to reject a proposed casino on Government Rock at Cascade Locks.
2000 Friends opens its first Gorge-based office, in Hood River, and hires its first Gorge-based field organizer.
2002 Friends launches Lewis & Clark Landscapes Project and works with others to secure $5 million for federal land acquisition for 2003.
2002 Friends convinces the U.S. Forest Service to remove cattle from the Sandy River Delta and allow a public process and environmental assessment prior to issuing new permits.
2003 Friends works with local residents to persuade Washington State Parks Commission to lift the temporary closure of the 31-mile Klickitat Trail and allow public access.
2005 Friends establishes the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust.
2007 Oregon Court of Appeals upholds a Friends legal victory, confirming that Oregon’s Ballot Measure 37 does not apply within the National Scenic Area.
2007 In response to a lawsuit filed by Friends, a federal district court requires a full environmental review of the potential impacts of federal and state agencies’ plans to introduce non-native Rocky Mountain goats to the Oregon side of the National Scenic Area. The agencies later cancel their plans.
2009 Friends and allies convince UPC/First Wind to cancel its proposal to build the massive Cascade Wind energy project on Sevenmile Hill, thus protecting Gorge vistas and wildlife habitat.
2009 Friends works with others to convince the U.S. Congress to pass the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, including more than 22,000 protected acres in the National Scenic Area.
2009 Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust raises $4.2 million for the Campaign for Cape Horn, to secure two rim-view properties to allow public access and recreation at Cape Horn.
2009 Oregon Supreme Court rules in favor of Friends’ claim that the National Scenic Area Management Plan fails to prevent the cumulative adverse effects of development on natural and cultural resources.
2009 Friends and allies convince the Washington Department of Natural Resources to shelve plans by SDS Lumber Co. to build 35 industrial wind turbines in spotted owl habitat on public land.
2010 Friends and allies block the proposed shipment of 150,000 tons of garbage annually from Hawaii through the Gorge to a landfill in Klickitat County.
2011 Friends and allies secure the closure of PGE’s Boardman coal power plant by 2020, phasing out the biggest source of air pollution affecting the Gorge and establishing a $2.5 million environmental fund.
2011 Friends celebrates the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and the grand opening of the Cape Horn Loop Trail and the Nancy Russell Overlook.
2011 Oregon Governor Kitzhaber rejects approval of a 600,000-square-foot casino resort in the heart of the Columbia Gorge ending a 13-year saga.
2011 Friends launches Gorge Towns to Trails, a long-term vision for a comprehensive trail system linking Gorge communities to recreation.
2012 The Oregon Court of Appeals holds that the Gorge Commission failed to protect natural and cultural resources from cumulative adverse effects.
2012 Responding to advocacy by Friends and allies, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire protects Gorge vistas by denying 15 of 50 industrial wind turbines proposed by SDS Lumber Co. along the rim of the Gorge.
2012 Friends and allies celebrate the removal of nearly 100-year-old Condit Dam, restoring the free-flowing White Salmon River and reopening access to native salmon runs.
2012 Friends officially establishes itself in Washington, opening an office in Washougal.
2013 Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust creates a public trail and overlook on its Mosier Plateau property connecting to the town of Mosier’s Pocket Park.