Friends of the Columbia Gorge celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and as someone who has led the organization for more than half its history, I feel we’re at an inflection point. I’ve seen moments like this in our history before, when Friends transformed from what it had been to what it was becoming. Sometimes it was conservation victories, like stopping a string of large coal and oil terminals or completing our $6.5 million Preserve the Wonder campaign. Sometimes it was the transitions of founders and long-time leaders. Each inflection point made us a little stronger, a little wiser, and it was clear that one era was ending and another was beginning.
Friends At 40: Our Mission, Values, and Vision Converge
However, with virtually every turning point in our history, how we communicated, looked, and represented ourselves lagged who we were becoming. This year, with the rollout of our new logo and rebranding, our communications are finally catching up with who we truly are.
For years, I wanted to simplify the look and feel of our communications and create a simple, clean logo. Friends of the Columbia Gorge never had a true logo but rather graphic images substituting as logos. In our early years, famed architect and Gorge conservationist John Yeon drew an image looking out to Vista House for our letterhead masthead. Later, a board member, Spencer Dick, found a graphic designer to develop a window decal showing a similar perspective with a young hiker. Both served as logos but neither fully spoke to who we are or who we hope to be.
What Friends of the Columbia Gorge was becoming was an organization more inclusive and looking beyond scenic protection to habitat preservation, climate resilience, youth education, and community livability. As exciting as that work was to staff and board was, we weren’t telling that story very well to our members and the public. That changed when Friends hired its first communications director, Burt Edwards, in 2017. Burt played the role of communications symphony conductor, taking the strong, singular messages of our legal, advocacy, land trust, and outdoor program work and melding them together to create one symphony, one sound, where the sum is greater than the parts.
His work was put to the test later that year when the Eagle Creek fire erupted and people saw Friends of the Columbia Gorge as more than a land-use advocacy organization or a hiking group, they saw us as a leader and community partner. From the aftermath of the Eagle Creek fire, we connected with Grady Britton, one of Portland’s longest-standing marketing agencies whose goal is to build brands for companies and nonprofit making the world a better place. Grady Britton donated $25,000 of in-kind branding and marketing services to help us refresh our brand and create our first official logo.
Friends’ new logo conveys trust and protection, while visually representing a holistic approach to the organization’s conservation work. Contained within is an illustration of the actual Columbia River within the National Scenic Area. With this logo, our name comes first and visual imagery won’t compete with the beautiful photography featured on our website or in our publications. And we worked to ensure our new logo would welcome you, no matter who you are or where you live. Our brand refresh aims to reach a new generation of stewards of the land.
As part of this effort, we've also worked to strengthen our storytelling and broaden both the ways we talk about our work and our messengers as well. That's why I'm also proud to unveil our new 40th Anniversary video, produced by Holden Films, exploring the story of a Native American family whose history is deeply intertwined with the Gorge and the evolution of our organization.
This is also why we're working with several local conservation partners to explore the connections between habitat protection and the health of key species like western pond turtles in the Gorge in celebration of Biodiversity Week (May 18-22). I hope you'll join us for our next Gorgeous Wildlife webinar on Wednesday (National Bee Day) exploring how land trust can work with other community partners to help protect habitat for pollinators.
The efforts and thinking that went into creating our new look and logo will reverberate throughout our communications for years to come. But while our look might have changed, our commitment to protecting, preserving, and stewarding the Gorge remains as steadfast as ever.