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Guest Blog: Washington State Parks & Friends' Beacon Rock Partnership

Guest Blog: Washington State Parks & Friends' Beacon Rock Partnership
The Columbia River Gorge as viewed from the Hamilton Mountain trail. (photographer: Meryl Lassen, Washington State Parks)
October 17, 2022
By Meryl Lassen
Communications Consultant, Washington State Parks; former volunteer, Gorge Towns to Trails

I still remember my first “big hike.”

Three buddies suggested Hamilton Mountain as a conditioner for Mt. St. Helens. The seven-plus miles and 2,000 feet of gain took all day. At one point I sat on the trail—in the heart of Beacon Rock State Park—and cried.

That was 12 years ago. I’ve since become a backpacker/hiker/mountaineer and switched careers to work in the outdoor industry.

My long-ago hiking group jokes that Hamilton Mountain created a monster. But my story shows how people can learn to love nature in a safe and supported environment—and then take it from there.

Beacon Rock offers several gateways to nature. From horseback riding to boating and paddling, and from chasing waterfalls to geological and Civilian Conservation Corps history, this park near Portland and Vancouver has something for most of us. It is tremendously accessible, sitting on both sides of Washington State Route 14, with public transportation from Vancouver and Washougal during the summer.

Beacon Rock is a westside gateway to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, a gorgeous stretch of land and water that makes up much of the Oregon-Washington border.

Expansion, improvements, access

Parks has been fortunate to find such a friend in this passionate and committed land trust. Our organizations have worked together for years to serve such parks as Columbia Hills, Maryhill, Goldendale Observatory, Doug’s Beach, Spring Creek Hatchery, Reed Island and, of course, Beacon Rock. Our partnership has involved trailhead ambassador programs and public information campaigns on wildfires, park closures and more.

The Gorge, with its diverse landscapes, species and recreation, has been preserved in both states largely thanks to Friends of the Columbia Gorge. More recently an opportunity arose that made Parks even more grateful to them.

In 2020, a local couple, Sharon and John Jamieson, were selling a tract of land next to the park, and they hoped to see it preserved. At the time, State Parks did not have the budget to buy the land, though our Parks planners had some great ideas for its use.

Friends, however, did have the budget. With an agreement that Parks would buy the land from them once the financing became available, Friends stepped in and bought the property, allowing Parks to fully envision, design and plan for improvements to safety, accessibility and parking at Beacon Rock.

Finally, in June of 2022, our agency was able to buy the land from Friends. As we marked this milestone with a small dedication ceremony, we also celebrated Friends’ outdoor youth education programs, trailhead education around invasive seeds and western pond turtle conservation work at Beacon Rock.

Our multi-year plan for Beacon Rock includes building a roundabout at the park’s entrance and exit, which will increase traffic safety on SR14. The design puts a pedestrian tunnel under the highway for safe crossing and it expands parking options, particularly for day users. Parks is now in the process of requesting a budget for the construction. The goal is to have the work done by 2030.

We could not have reached this point, or even hoped for this opportunity, without our partners and friends at Friends of the Columbia Gorge! We are so happy for Friends’ quick action, commitment to keeping these treasured lands and waters safe and gorgeous and willingness to collaborate on this project and we’re excited to continue our work together!