Gorge Caretaker: Jim Chase

Gorge Caretaker Role: Hike Program Volunteer Trainer, Leader and Shepherd

"I moved to Portland 10 years ago. I grew up in St. Louis, spent all of my working life in the Midwest, moved around quite a bit, although the company I worked for most of my career was in Chicago. I’m a lifelong hiker, backpacker, camper and I knew that the Northwest would be a wonderful place to live. I had only been through the Gorge once or twice, so I didn’t really know it very much, but when I got out here I actually found Friends of the Columbia Gorge three days after we moved here.

"After all this time, the first word that comes to me when I think about the Gorge is 'Wow.' That's it. I think the thing that’s the best about the Gorge is the diversity and the variety of it. I like to hike, I like the mountains, I like the flowers, waterfalls, all of that. But since I’ve been here, I’ve really gotten into the whole geology of the Gorge, particularly the Ice Age floods aspect of it, and I’ve studied that. I’ve traveled all over the Northwest looking at features of that and seeing how that shapes the Gorge. I also am kind of an amateur historian, so the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, all of the history, is all here in the Gorge and it’s visible. You can just see it. You can sit where Lewis and Clark sat and all of this. The last couple of years, also, I started volunteering for the Columbia Hills State Park where the pictographs are and that kind of got me interested in the whole history of the Chinook people, the whole culture and the whole history of what took place for 10,000 years here in the Gorge."

"In the Gorge I can take a hike and I can find geology, I can find history, I can find trees, forest, flowers, whatever. It can be different every time. 

"After the fire, it’ll come back. It’s not the first time the Gorge has burned and it won’t be the last. And it looks like the fire has brought together a lot of the groups that haven’t always worked hand in hand together in the past. There’s a lot of good things going on like that. I’ve really gotten to know how important stewardship is and how much needs to be done. I think with all of the work that’s going to need to be done to restore the trails, hopefully we’ll have a much bigger group of people that will come to realize that and get into it. If that happens, then there’s something good to come out of it.

"One thing we could do to make the Gorge stronger is trying to work more on controlling access to the congested areas. The Gorge is kind of a victim of its own success. In 2017 I was happy to help organize the Trail Ambassador program to help the Forest Service with parking and handling the crowds at Dog Mountain. It was really successful and rewarding, just another example of something that’s just one small piece of the puzzle, but I think it will make a big difference.

"On the trail, I’m a big believer in emergency gear, so my pack has first-aid gear, extra clothes, a tarp that can make into a pretty nice tent. I think a lot of the hike leaders in this area, as hikers, go with the philosophy of always be prepared to spend the night. And I never leave without a trash bag. You know, it’s funny, I started doing that a couple years ago on the hikes I led for Friends and, without ever saying a word to anybody, if we were going through an area that had some trash, I’d just pull that out and start picking up beer cans or whatever. I’ve noticed now that most of the hikes I lead, either informal or for the Friends, everybody will have a trash bag." 

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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