Gorge Caretaker: Arlene Burns

Gorge Caretaker Role: Mayor of Mosier, OR

"I moved to the Columbia Gorge in 1994, when I bought my house in Mosier. I've come and gone a lot and in fact, in the 1990s I worked for Friends of the Columbia Gorge as their first field representative. Later, I left to run the Telluride Mountain Film Festival in Colorado and Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, CA. But the Gorge has always pulled me back. It is just...gorgeous!

"From the start I was just blown away, as everyone is, by the magnificent beauty of the place and also the juxtaposition between rain forest and desert. To be in a place that is a national scenic area that you can actually live in, it’s like living in a national park in a way. And that we have access, reasonable access, to a good domestic and international airport means that we really have everything we could possibly need nearby. Yet, because of the crazy weather conditions here, this is not for everyone as a place to live. So, it keeps us a little more isolated because Mother Nature has the last word in the conversation. I think most people that live here love the Gorge fiercely and feel a responsibility to nurture and protect this beauty.

"The Eagle Creek fire was Mosier's third fire event in the past decade. In 2009 we had a fire that came right to the doorstep of Mosier, so we were all under evacuation and thought we were going to lose our town. And then we had the (Union Pacific unit oil train derailment and fire) in 2016. So we’ve had some practice of evacuation and that is good practice to have. What worries me now, with climate change, these extreme events will become more common. One thing leads to the next. I imagined we’re going to have lots of landslides after these fire events that could plague us for years to come.

"This might be from my recent experience dealing with this derailment, but my number-one wish for the Gorge in the coming years is for it not to become a fossil fuel superhighway, a conduit for hazardous materials. Because that’s a big, big pressure and already we have hazardous materials (being shipped on) both sides of the Gorge and that's because of the access, because it's a sea-level passage cutting through the mountains. So we’re fighting to stop these coal and oil terminals from being allowed. That’s the easiest, best way to stop the stuff from getting fracked out of the ground in the first place.

"Events like (the derailment and the Eagle Creek fire), they create stress and issues and we’ve had our share. I think we’re going to come out better in the long run. Mosier is a resilient little town and it doesn’t hurt to be well versed in evacuation procedures. So I think our community has  taken a posture of thinking how can we help others in times of crisis.

"These events remind us to appreciate what is most precious, and to understand that, you know, besides your friends and your family and your community, the rest is really just stuff."

Caretakers of the Gorge is a collaboration between Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Swanson Studio, a Portland-based commercial photo studio. 

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