The Eagle Creek fire has closed most trails from Wyeth to Troutdale.

Preserving the Wonder for Things We Hold Dear

Preserving the Wonder for Things We Hold Dear
Meghan Gorman, daughter of Executive Director Kevin Gorman, at Friends' Mosier Plateau land trust property. (photographs courtesy of Kevin Gorman and Michelle Kinsella)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By Kevin Gorman
Executive Director


The older I become, the more I see that all aspects of my life are interconnected. That revelation hit home on Sunday as our 37th Annual Meeting & Luncheon came to a close. We announced our Preserve the Wonder campaign, a $5.5 million fundraising effort to purchase seven properties and preserve over 420 acres in the Columbia Gorge. I watched people tear up (how cool is that?) as videos told the stories of properties our land trust is buying. At a time when the environment is under assault, Preserve the Wonder was seen as a lifeline by many in the audience. I was humbled as people approached me with both pride and relief that we were doing something so important.

As I scanned the room to find my family after our meeting, I saw my 17-year-old daughter engaged in an animated conversation with one of our staff. A lump in my throat formed just as it had earlier that day when we announced our land campaign. I was reminded, once again, how my journey as a non-profit director and father are so inextricably linked.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Meghan Gorman entered my life about the same time. I was less than a year into my job in August 1999 and my wife Michelle was seven months pregnant with our first and what would be our only child. Knowing that my free time would soon dwindle fast, I decided to take a camping trip up Eagle Creek one last time before fatherhood. Shortly after I left, my wife’s water broke, two months ahead of her due date. She drove herself to the hospital and called our office to find out if my co-workers might try to help find me. They tried, oh they tried, sending a runner on the trail and even flying a helicopter up Eagle Creek, but I was not to be found.

Knowing I had another five days on the trail, my wife and her doctors proceeded without me and the next morning, at 4:09 a.m., Michelle delivered a 4 lb., 9 oz., baby girl. What my wife didn’t know was that as she was enduring labor pains in Portland, I was nursing my leg in an ice-cold Eagle Creek with a second-degree leg burn as my fleece pants had caught fire from a camp stove. I cut my camping trip short, limped out the next day and came home early to discover my world had changed forever.

I spent the first couple of years as a father and non-profit director in a “fake it 'til you make it” mode. I was given two gifts too precious to squander, but there was no owner’s manual for either job. I made mistakes, adapted and eventually found purpose and joy in both worlds.

Ironically, the pieces of our Preserve the Wonder campaign began to fall into place shortly after Meghan’s birth. It was spring of 1999 when I was invited by Dan Huntington to walk an area where Dan and our founder Nancy Russell envisioned a new trail. I drove to a place they referred to as Cape Horn and put Meghan in a backpack. We hiked a mile up through a patchwork of public and private land, and then came out to a privately owned viewpoint that took my breath away. It was simply one of the most beautiful vistas I had ever seen. As Dan and Nancy told me the stories of property acquisitions and the possibilities for the public to enjoy what I was seeing, the pieces of the puzzle to create a spectacular Cape Horn Trail began to come together for me. It is no accident that 18 years later the very viewpoint that provided so much inspiration to me that day is what we're calling Cape Horn Vista, one of the seven Preserve the Wonder properties.

Over the years, I took Meghan to some of the other Preserve the Wonder properties as well as many other places in the Gorge. With her friends, her cousins and her Girl Scout troops, Meghan explored and came to appreciate the Columbia Gorge and I developed a deeper understanding of what we owe future generations in leaving them a better, healthier Columbia Gorge. She and the Gorge taught me service in the name of a higher good.

Now a junior in high school, Meghan is a great kid and I like to think that my wife and I can take large credit, but honestly, we can’t. She shines and excels in ways we never did nor ever taught. She is who she is and we are merely sideboards in her evolution of life. The same goes for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. I have led this organization for many years, but I can’t take credit for its success. It is the ecosystem of staff, board, volunteers and members who make this such an amazing organization.

One year from now, I will watch my daughter wrap up her last year of high school and our Preserve the Wonder campaign will come to a successful close. I’m proud to have played a role in both of these, but even more proud to see enormous strides occurring of which I really play just a small role. Raising a beautiful young woman and running a successful, passionate non-profit organization are humbling, awesome privileges and I feel very fortunate to be along for the ride.

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