At Friends of the Columbia Gorge, staff always want to do more for the Gorge: more land conservation, more hikes, more stewardship. But for Friends and the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause, a slowing down.
More suddenly became less, because it had to.
For Friends’ outdoor programs, which includes our beloved hike program, this pause gave us time to reflect and analyze our past offerings. It created an opening to consider how we offer hikes and other guided outings that relate specifically to our new collaborative partners—communities and groups we hadn’t fully engaged in the past.
In 2021, staff began looking toward the post-pandemic future, where we could get outside with Gorge communities again, and we realized we would need to rebalance our outdoor programming. Our vision was to resume our guided outings of the past, while also developing programming through new, sustainable community partnerships.
This year, staff was excited to relaunch our outdoor programs, but with a reduced number of guided outings for the public and Friends members. We began developing new collaborations with culturally specific community groups and organizations in the six scenic area counties, which led to partnering together, and offering guided outings to their staff and community members. Looking ahead to 2023, we will continue strengthening the relationships we’ve made, and begin new partnerships with groups we haven’t worked with yet.
Why are partnered outings with culturally specific community groups significant? For me personally, representation of people of color in the outdoors has been vital to my sense of well-being in outdoor spaces. I want to share the knowledge, courage, and empowerment I have acquired, so they too can love the outdoors and want to protect the Columbia Gorge. For Friends, offering partnered outings has meant sharing our resources and knowledge with community members who haven’t had the access or privilege to enjoy the Gorge as most of our Friends community has always experienced.
Friends started leading hikes over 40 years ago to share the beauty of the Gorge with others who might not have experienced it. Today, the Columbia Gorge is well known, and most of Friends’ community is very familiar with much that it has to offer. Offering partnered outings takes us back to our roots. It connects us with neighbors who may not have had opportunities yet to explore the Gorge and introduces them to the wonders we all treasure in this remarkable place.
Questions? Contact Melissa Gonzalez, outdoor programs & communications specialist.