Every June since 2008, sixth-graders from the Washougal School District, at the edge of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on the Washington side of the Columbia River, have had the opportunity to culminate their school year by attending a multiday outdoor school and explore the geological, cultural, and ecological wonders of the Gorge.

Explore the Gorge fosters students’ relationships with these wild places through interactive games and educational activities, aiming to inspire the next generation of Gorge stewards.

A memorial gift from longtime supporter and member Phyllis Clausen in honor of her late husband established the program. When schools started to lose funding for their own outdoor school programs, Phyllis, who has a strong background conservation work, saw a local need for environmental education. She worked with Friends to establish the Vic Clausen Youth Education Fund. Explore the Gorge has since been offered free of charge to more than 2,200 students, operating in partnership with the Washougal School District, with grant funding support from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest.

Most recently, Explore the Gorge was revitalized after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2022, Friends staff, volunteers, and partners came together to bring 270 students back to the Gorge for three days of fun and wonder.

Staying true to our roots, we continued our tradition of holding activities for students at the Hamilton Mountain and Doetsch Day Use Area sections of Beacon Rock State Park. And we had the exciting privilege of adding new activities such as a pika walk led by local wildlife experts and conservation talks by Gorge Refuge Stewards and local naturalists. We were also joined by U.S. Forest Service Rangers who led students at an interactive game station, as well as a forest fire ecology lesson.

Explore the Gorge Articles

June 13, 2019 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Washougal Students 'Explore the Gorge'
June 21, 2018 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Explore the Gorge
June 15, 2018 | The Columbian: Washougal students talk about environment during Outdoor School 
June 15, 2017 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Out of Their Desks and Into Nature

“I feel so encouraged to know that our program is growing and that in other places, too, people are remembering the values of outdoor programs for kids' long term health and overall development. You are doing something of significant worth.” - Phyllis Clausen, founder of Explore the Gorge