Early Protection Efforts

Friends of the Columbia Gorge was not the first entity to call for protecting the Columbia Gorge's beauty. The Gorge has inspired many plans to protect the lands along the Columbia River. Even the Historic Columbia River Highway, built between 1913 and 1922, was designed to make the natural wonders of the Gorge available to all people. An Oregon law enacted in 1915 prohibits the diversion or interruption of more than two dozen waterways forming waterfalls or cascades in view of or near the highway.

In 1915, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture protected nearly 14,000 acres of federal land on the Oregon side of the Gorge, including many of the Gorge’s famous waterfalls, as the “Columbia Gorge Park.” This is widely believed to be the first time the Forest Service dedicated a sizable area of land solely for recreation and scenery purposes. The following year, the Forest Service opened a campground at Eagle Creek, its first developed campground in the country. Also in 1916, the Gorge was considered by Congress for possible designation as a national park.

The continuing threats to the remaining natural wonders of the Gorge led to the formation of Gorge Commissions by both Oregon and Washington in the 1950s. These groups, made up mainly of residents of Gorge counties, had only advisory authority and little funding. As a result, they proved too weak to control the pressures for land development arising from the growing population of the Portland metropolitan area in the 1970s.

Friends was founded in 1980 with a focus on permanent protection of Gorge lands. For a full history of Friends and formation of the National Scenic Area, click Friends and the National Scenic Area.