Gorge Caretaker: Casey Roeder

Gorge Caretaker Role: Chamber of commerce executive director, Skamania County, WA

"I live in North Bonneville, WA and have lived in Skamania County for 31 years. We moved here just after the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act was passed. Tourism is currently Skamania County’s biggest economic driver with the transition from timber to tourism over the past 25 years.

"The Gorge is spectacular. It’s the natural beauty that you never tire of; so spectacular, magnificent, and ever-changing, which was certainly proved here (during the fire). When the fire spread, when the winds took it and it started to move west, the river is very narrow across from North Bonneville, so it felt like the fire was right in our back yard. Initially it was very scary with the fear that it could jump the river, which it did, in an area where the river is much wider. Ironically, the fire created a block party in North Bonneville. Neighbors came into each others' back yards to sit and watch it as it jumped all the way down the river that night.

"But we feared for our friends, neighbors and chamber members across the river at Cascade Locks. And there was just a fear of the unknown. The smoke was so thick for so many days that we couldn’t see what happened on the Oregon side. From the Washington side, you literally couldn’t tell what the damage was. Once it lifted, it was rather miraculous that the beauty’s still here. Yes, there are scars and there are things that are closed for safety reasons, all of that. But the beauty’s still here. None of that has changed. It’s still spectacular.

"In Skamania County, in Stevenson, the Red Cross opened an evacuation center for people from Cascade Locks. Some people were staying inside, some people were camping at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, but a lot of them had animals. They brought their animals and volunteers from our area really came together to take care of those animals. That was pretty impressive, and a very grassroots, quick effort. They were staying with them 24-7 in the barns at the fairgrounds. All sorts of donations were coming in for pet food and blankets and all of that. They had everything from a tarantula to a horse, I believe. For those of us on the Washington side, we felt hampered. What could we do to help? We couldn’t come over there physically, obviously; they didn’t want any more people on the Oregon side. But here was something that we could do to help our neighbors.

"Many trails are closed on the Oregon side, but there’s a lot of space to explore on the Washington side. People can go into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Columbia Hills State Park is vast. And it’s unique out there in the east end. Dalles Mountain Ranch, you know, all of that is available. We’ve already been talking prior to the fire, talking about dispersal of the crowds. Dog Mountain, for example, how do we either get people to go midweek, and it’s the whole Ready, Set, GOrge! thing: Go early, go east, go midweek, go north. How do we encourage people to go into those areas that are lesser used and to experience them. The neat thing about hiking on the Washington side is that you’re looking over at the Oregon side.

"The resilience of the Gorge includes Mother Nature, but also the strength of its people. All those businesses in Cascade Locks that, you know, they didn’t close their doors, they opened their doors to feed the firefighters. All of those people that came together, and are continuing to do so. Those of us who live here in the Gorge are definitely resilient people. I think people who have managed to live here for many years do so for a reason. It’s because they can deal with the natural elements."

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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