Dave Cannard's big personality and big heart continue to benefit the Columbia Gorge today.Last month, Friends of the Columbia Gorge lost a founding star, a bright light who through his exuberance and persistence shaped the early years of both Friends and the Columbia River Gorge Commission. David L. Cannard died at the age of 93 in Vancouver, WA. Dave was a gregarious person, passionate about Gorge protection, and made it his mission at Friends’ formation to convince Washington elected officials to get behind the idea of creating a National Scenic Area in the Columbia Gorge.
This was no small task as Washington state governors as well as the state’s congressional delegation had typically deferred to local interests when it came to Gorge protection. By 1980, such deference was leading to several residential subdivisions being proposed on the Washington side of the Gorge at Cape Horn, across from Multnomah Falls, and near Beacon Rock. At the time, Skamania County had no land-use laws to stop these subdivisions and it was this threat that helped make the case that bi-state, federal protection was necessary if we were ever to protect this treasured landscape.
Dave Cannard was at heart a lover of the outdoors. Having lived most of his life in Vancouver, WA, he took his kids, as well as Boy Scout troops, on hiking and camping trips throughout the Northwest. His brother Don was equally enamored with the forests and in 1986 founded the Vancouver-based Chinook Trails Association. The organization’s mission to this day is to create a loop trail around the Columbia Gorge. If that sounds similar to Friends’ Gorge Towns to Trails vision, it is—but with one significant difference: the Chinook Trail vision is a “backcountry” experience going in and out of the Gorge and using U.S. Forest Service campsites as stopping points while Gorge Towns to Trails is a “frontcountry” experience staying within the National Scenic Area and connecting into Gorge communities.
In 1979, when Dave heard of the pending formation of a non-profit organization to push for bi-state protection of the Columbia Gorge, he jumped in with both feet and became one of Friends’ three founders, along with Nancy Russell and Mitch Bower. Dave was a constant crusader of Gorge protection and traveled with Nancy Russell to Washington DC to lobby then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. He fulfilled his early goal of bringing the Washington congressional delegation onboard when in October 1986, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed legislation to create the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. While’s Oregon’s delegation had two dissenters, the entire Washington delegation supported the Gorge legislation.
Following the passage of the National Scenic Area, the governors of Oregon and Washington began taking steps to fill the commission seats for the newly appointed Gorge Commission, and the governor of Washington called on Dave to step down from his Friends’ board role to serve as one of the first Columbia River Gorge Commissioners. It was Dave and those other first commissioners who set up the structure of the Commission and created its first, and to date, most protective management plan for the National Scenic Area.
By the time I joined the organization in 1998, Dave was no longer on the board of Friends or the Gorge Commission. But whenever I would answer the phone at work and hear a big baritone voice saying “Hellooooo, my friend,” I knew it was Dave and that I was in for an interesting conversation.
Dave had become deeply involved in a project I was just learning of: the effort to secure a trail connection and eventually build a trail at Cape Horn. Dave was enthusiastic about the trail concept and became a conservation buyer for a critical connection along the trail. Today, you cannot reach the first Cape Horn viewpoint with the half-fallen fir tree without walking on the property Dave purchased. The property is now owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but it was a decade-long process from Dave’s initial acquisition to public ownership and one that was painful for all parties.
During his dealings with the U.S. Forest Service, Dave’s outspokenness often got the best of him and the Forest Service staff made his life very difficult as they worked to acquire his land. At one point during the process, he called me, quite agitated, saying he was going to put up For Sale signs and stake out home sites. I pushed back hard saying how that would go against all he had stood for over the years. We continued at it for a while and at some point became exhausted with our back and forth and moved on to discussing Catholic theology (as we were both practicing Catholics) and the virtue of forgiveness. We ended the call on a positive note with a greater appreciation and fondness for one another. Best of all, the For Sale signs never went up.
Watching the polarized world we live in today, I am reminded of those challenging conversations with Dave that actually led to deeper connections in our relationship and eventual friendship. Is that a world of the past or simply a world that is dormant for the time being? I would love to hear what Dave Cannard would say about that. I miss his booming “Hellooooo, my friend” and all I can say is “goodbye, my friend.”
Dave Cannard's Memorial Mass will be held at 10 a.m., Friday, Dec. 6, followed by a reception, at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Vancouver, WA. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Friends of the Columbia Gorge or to other efforts to preserve natural spaces near and dear to your heart.
View Dave Cannard's obituary (The Columbian)