Gorge Caretaker: Paul Freeman

Gorge Caretaker Role: Hike Program Volunteer

"I'm 68 years old and now that I'm retired I go hiking twice a week. I like to lead hikes for Friends of the Columbia Gorge to identify all the wildflowers. To me, the coming out into the Gorge, coming to the trails, is part of renewing the spirit. You can go into the eastern Gorge and the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining. It’s such an important part of my life for my spirit to be able to get out. The waterfalls are such a deep and spiritual place, to get there early in the morning before the crowds and just stand there in the mist feeling the power of the waterfall.

"I hike almost every trail in the Gorge every year, some of them more than once. So I get to know the big old trees. I personally am concerned about what has happened to the trees due to the fire. I know they’re going to come back. I’m actually looking forward to getting out on the trails and seeing how much damage there was and then through the years. To see how the Columbia Gorge changes through the years, how it recovers naturally. So that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing."

"The most popular trails are overused, but it’s a whole different experience when you get there at seven in the morning and you can experience waterfalls with hardly anyone else there. I’m not sure how you regulate usage, but we need more public transportation. It has to be part of the solution, especially during the prime flower time when there’s so many people who have seen other people’s pictures on the Internet and say 'I have to go there.' The fact that the public transportation has started is a very good thing, that you have a bus to Dog Mountain on the weekends when it’s the busiest. The fact that there’s a bus that comes from Gateway (Transit Center in Portland) out to Multnomah falls is a big improvement, but let’s get people to a whole lot of other trails.

"The most important thing to have with me on the trail? Well, you have to have good boots to hike. For Leave No Trace, a garbage bag, too. It’s crucial to pick up after ourselves and pick up after the other hikers. I pick up whatever trash I find because you need to make it feel like no one else has ever been here before except for this trail you’re following. Everything else is totally undisturbed and that’s a feeling that very few people in the world get to have, to hike and feel like you’re the only person that’s been to this spot, at least in your imagination." 

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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