For millennia, communities living around the Columbia Gorge have served as active stewards of its unique landscape. Based out of Hood River, Oregon, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust works to preserve scenic Gorge landscapes, safeguard sensitive habitats, steward vital Gorge lands, provide public hiking trails, and strengthen Gorge community connections through the creation of a new 200-mile loop trail network that enhances Gorge recreation and local economic opportunities.
We have helped permanently protect more than 1,600 acres of land in the Gorge. We’ve helped steward Gorge lands and have organized hundreds of work parties across the Gorge to remove invasive species and replant native vegetation in concert with state and federal land managers. And we’ve helped bring together over 100 community partners to collectively promote sustainable Gorge recreation opportunities through our efforts in support of the Gorge Towns to Trails initiative.
An established record of conservation and protection
An accredited land trust, since its creation in 2005, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust has conserved 26 sites in the Gorge, including lands at Cape Horn, Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge, the Klickitat Trail, and Memaloose Ridge that have been transferred to public ownership. We also own and manage two public preserves, the Lyle Cherry Orchard and Mosier Plateau, which have become beloved spots for locals and visitors alike. Friends also holds a number of properties, closed for general public access, to protect habitat for endangered or threatened species and to increase climate resilience by protecting value forests that store carbon.
Most properties are held in land trust ownership for decades, while others are short-term ownerships before transfer to public ownership; for all of these the Land Trust pays annual property taxes to Gorge communities. Since tax year 2012, Friends has paid $497,534 in local and state taxes (this figure includes paid Washington taxes and estimated Oregon taxes for 2022).
Stewardship and education
Land acquisitions, however, are not the only focus of the Friends land trust. The land trust is an active steward of its properties, with particular emphasis on controlling non-native plants, maintaining trails, and restoring natural communities. The properties are outdoor classrooms as well: students from nearby schools learn on site about the land’s natural history, and to identify and collect data on local plants.
Boot brushes and signage at Land Trust properties educate visitors about how not to spread invasive weed species as they hike. The Land Trust holds educational events during the peak hike season to connect with users and the public about the threat of invasive plant species and boot brushes. Plant identification workshops are held on the sites, in partnership with Gorge counties, to educate residents about impacts of invasive plant species in the Gorge.
The Land Trust's lineage
Purchases by the Land Trust are rooted in the 1980s, when Friends' founder Nancy Russell was working with others to gain federal protections for the lands of the Columbia Gorge. Nancy believed in land acquisition as the most effective tool for conserving Gorge vistas and habitats, and personally purchased 30 properties to protect them from subdivision development and other uses opposed to public enjoyment of the Gorge.
In 2004, Friends of the Columbia Gorge founder Nancy Russell was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. That same year, long-time member Norman Yeon left Friends an unrestricted bequest of $4.5 million. Nancy’s diagnosis and Norman’s generous gift led to the creation of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust in 2005. The trust, a 509(a)(3) support organization of the parent organization, is beholden to Friends of the Columbia Gorge but is a subsidiary of the parent organization. Nancy Russell was elected as the Land Trust’s first trustee and served until her death in 2008. In her will, she bequeathed over 600 acres of her land to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust.
The acquisitions by Russell and the Land Trust have opened to the public thousands of acres of land that had previously been off-limits to visitors. These properties, in addition to their wildlife value, are vital in spreading the environmental and economic impacts of Gorge hiking beyond the waterfall corridor, and across the entire Gorge, from Washougal to Maryhill in Washington, and from Troutdale to Celilo in Oregon.
Preserve the Wonder acquisitions
Preserve the Wonder, a Friends $5.5 million land acquisition campaign, was completed in 2018. The effort allowed Friends to acquire 520 acres among eight Washington properties—including Cape Horn Vista (view from property pictured at right). Selection of these landscapes was the culmination of 10 years of analysis and negotiation, in which the Land Trust manager worked with Gorge landowners and partner agencies to identify properties that preserved scenic beauty, offered opportunities to enhance wildlife habitat (especially for salmon species), preserve native ecosystems (especially white oak forests and savannas), and create trail connections in the Gorge Towns to Trails vision of a 200-mile Gorge-wide hiking loop.
Land Trust Director: Dan Bell
Land Trust Coordinator: Frances Fischer
Volunteer Coordinator: Sarah Skelly
Gorge Towns to Trails Project Manager: Renée Tkach
Stewardship Manager: Sara Woods
Media or Gorge Accessibility Project Questions: Digital Communications Manager Stan Hall
Meet the Board of Trustees