Gorge Caretakers: Miranda Mendoza and David Spangler

Gorge Caretaker Roles: Park Ranger (Miranda) and Park Manager (David), East Columbia River Gorge Management Unit, Oregon State Parks

Miranda: "I work at Rooster Rock State Park and have been been a park ranger since 2000. I’ve worked at five different management units, two on the coast and then two out in eastern Oregon before coming here."

David: "I came to Oregon State Parks in 2011." 

Miranda: "I think the combination of both the historic and cultural as well as natural beauty make the Columbia Gorge a spiritual experience. I grew up on the coast, but I’ve been coming out here specifically for the last 10 years because you can spend all the time in the world here and still always find something new."

David: "I came to the Gorge almost 20 years ago. I met my wife here and we’ve been in and out of the Gorge ever since. My wife and I always refer to it as sort of a home base. It’s a great jumping-off point. It’s a great place to always return to and we’re just so lucky having a wealth of recreation. That’s why we’re here and want to be here."

Miranda: "A concern for the Gorge I have is that it’s being loved to death. Everybody who comes out here wants to have, maybe not the exact same experience, but they recognize the beauty, they want to experience some part of the Gorge. Not everybody comes out with the understanding of how to care for it, so the push for stewardship is important. The push for land managers to look at how we can provide an experience for our visitors while also protecting the natural resource is important, as well as the economy."

David: "I would have to agree. I think the biggest issue that we’re going to have is just the continuing traffic. How do we manage that, especially on the waterfall section of the Historic Columbia River Highway? When we open up the non-motorized sections connecting the entire Gorge from Troutdale to Hood River, what is that use going to look like? How are we going to manage that use, from the parking to the bathrooms to just having the space to have everybody enjoy the Gorge and have those solitary experiences while having that number of people?"

Miranda: "Everybody looks at the Eagle Creek fire as a disaster. One thing to understand about fire and nature is that that’s part of nature’s process. It needs fire to clear out bacterias and pathogens, to make space for new plants or for plants to rejuvenate or return to an area, to allow multiple food sources for all different types of creatures. So, Gorge resilience to me is a fact. Just like a person will work out or run or go on a diet to maintain themselves, it’s the same with the Gorge. While we see this is a disaster and we’re recognizing and grieving about the way it was started, recognizing that this is also a beautiful process, the Gorge is going to come out beautiful. We’re going to see new and amazing things that haven’t been seen in possibly centuries because of the areas that were burned."

David: "For me, when I look at resilience, I look at the Gorge over a long geologic term. Sitting here (in Cascade Locks), Bridge of the Gods, which was literally a landslide that came off Table Mountain and literally blocked the Columbia, creating a bridge. Looking at this in terms of a geologic time, the Gorge is always going to be resilient. From that impact of humans that we’re having now to the short-term impact of the fire, to me it’s a geologic perspective as we look at that resilience in the Gorge. It’s ever evolving, ever changing.

"Working as a ranger is sort of that ideal job of being able to be outside, being able to do a variety of different things. The most enjoyable part of my job is that every day is a little bit different. For example, ending the day with an interview, doing archaeology in the morning, and doing trees in the midday. That’s the one thing I like about being a park ranger. It’s just that multifaceted position and that’s why I came to (Oregon State) Parks and why I continue working with them."

Miranda: "Actually, it’s similar for me. My favorite thing about the job is the fact that my job is to help people create good memories and have good experiences. Having that ability to work outside in the best office space in the Pacific Northwest and to live places where people come to take their vacation. I get to live there and I get to see it every single day. That’s my favorite part. One of the hardest parts, of course, is our society, our world is changing every day. It’s moving at a quick pace and sometimes moving that along with them can be challenging. There’s so many people that have so much interest and you want to be able to accommodate everything and that can be a challenge. It’s a good challenge, but it’s also tough."

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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