Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust

Acquiring and preserving lands for wildlife and people

Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust
Hikers enjoy our land trust property, Dancing Rock, on a Friends guided outing (photographer: Debbie Asakawa)

From public trails to endangered turtle habitat to beautiful viewpoints, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust currently owns about 1,300 acres of land, making it one of the largest private landowners in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Since its creation in 2005, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust has conserved 26 sites in the Gorge, for a total of 1,566 acres. 

The Land Trust works with landowners and partner agencies to acquire properties that:

  • Preserve the scenic beauty and cultural heritage of the Gorge
  • Preserve or restore habitats for wildlife
  • Create recreational opportunities and trail connections for people

Most properties are held in land trust ownership for decades; for these the Land Trust pays annual property taxes to Gorge communities. In 2017-18, it paid about $52,000 in such taxes. Other properties are acquired and then conveyed to state or federal agencies, as elements of larger conservation or recreation projects. 
Land acquisitions are not the only focus of the Land Trust. The trust is an active steward of its properties, with particular emphasis on controlling non-native plants, maintaining trails and restoring natural communities. The properties are outdoor classrooms as well: students from nearby schools learn on site about the land’s natural history, and to identify and collect data on local plants. Boot brushes and signage at Land Trust properties educate visitors about how not to spread invasive weed species as they hike. The Land Trust holds educational events during the peak hike season to connect with users and the public about the threat of invasive plant species and boot brushes. Plant identification workshops are held on the sites, in partnership with Gorge counties, to educate residents about impacts of invasive plant species in the Gorge. 

The Land Trust's lineage

Purchases by the Land Trust are rooted in the 1980s, when Friends' founder Nancy Russell was working with others to gain federal protections for the lands of the Columbia Gorge—efforts that resulted in the 1986 creation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Nancy believed in land acquisition as the most effective tool for conserving Gorge vistas and habitats, and personally purchased 30 properties to protect them from subdivision development and other uses opposed to public enjoyment of the Gorge.
Beyond her own acquisitions—either sold to public agencies or conveyed at her death to the Land Trust—Nancy Russell advocated for federal funds for the Forest Service to purchase land. She also helped start the Oregon office of the Trust for Public Land to facilitate these acquisitions. The result: more than 30,000 acres were purchased from willing sellers during those early years. These lands provide permanent, protected habitat for wildlife, and recreational opportunities for the people who live in and treasure the Gorge as one of the nation’s most scenic resources.
Each year, Friends leads dozens of hikes into the Gorge, in Washington and Oregon, many of them beyond Oregon’s famed “Waterfall Alley” where lands have been preserved for public enjoyment for more than a century. Because of proximity to the Portland metro area, these waterfall trails and the Historic Columbia River Highway accessing them have experienced unsustainable visitor loads in the last decade.
The acquisitions by Russell and the Land Trust have opened to the public thousands of acres of land that had previously been off-limits to visitors. These properties, in addition to their wildlife value, are vital in spreading the environmental and economic impacts of Gorge hiking beyond the waterfall corridor, and across the entire Gorge, from Washougal to Maryhill in Washington, and from Troutdale to Celilo in Oregon. 

Preserve the Wonder acquisitions

Preserve the Wonder, a $5.5 million land acquisition campaign, was completed in 2018 by the Land Trust to acquire 470 acres among seven Washington properties, including Cape Horn Vista (view from property pictured at right). Selection of these landscapes was the culmination of 10 years of analysis and negotiation, in which the Land Trust manager worked with Gorge landowners and partner agencies to identify properties that preserved scenic beauty, offered opportunities to enhance wildlife habitat (especially for salmon species), preserve native ecosystems (especially white oak forests and savannas), and create trail connections in the Gorge Towns to Trails vision of a 200-mile Gorge-wide hiking loop. 

How the Land Trust was created

In 2004, Friends of the Columbia Gorge founder Nancy Russell was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. That same year, long-time member Norman Yeon left Friends an unrestricted bequest of $4.5 million. Nancy’s diagnosis and Norman’s generous gift led to the creation of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust in 2005. The trust, a 509(a)(3) support organization of the parent organization, is beholden to Friends of the Columbia Gorge but is a subsidiary of the parent organization. Nancy Russell was elected as the Land Trust’s first trustee, and served until her death in 2008. In her will, she bequeathed over 600 acres of her land to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a member of the Land Trust Alliance and the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts.

Contact Us

Land Trust Director: Dan Bell

Stewardship Coordinator: Sara Woods

Meet the Board of Trustees
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Pledge to Use a Boot Brush!

Pledge to Use a Boot Brush!

Give the boot to noxious weeds in the Gorge!

Learn More
Hike Lyle Cherry Orchard

Hike Lyle Cherry Orchard

Beautiful scenery and south-facing slopes make this a great year-round hike.

View Hike
Hike Mosier Plateau

Hike Mosier Plateau

Watch a video highlighting stunning views up and down the Gorge from this property.

View Hike
Volunteer for a Stewardship Work Party

Volunteer for a Stewardship Work Party

Helping maintain a Friends land trust property is a great way to give back to the Gorge.