Introduction: Keepers of the MagicIn late summer 2021, my wife Lindsey and I left our home in central Maine to make a cross-country move to Oregon for her new job at Reed College. The grand finale of our westward journey led us from Hermiston to Portland on I-84, a stretch of highway that rivals any of the most spectacular routes in the world. The beauty one witnesses driving this road is transcendental; through the barren deserts in the east, the rocky crag in the middle, or the dense forests and waterfalls in the west, nature seems to further affirm its grandeur and divinity with each passing curve.
I’d experienced the Gorge once before 15 years ago—wading through waist-deep water in Oneonta Creek with my dad is one of my most vivid memories with him—but Lindsey had never visited. That’s why it made perfect sense to me when, every 10 miles or so, she’d murmur, partly to me and partly to the ether, “I can’t believe people actually get to live here.” With that phrase still echoing in my mind, I was beyond thrilled to join the Friends of the Columbia Gorge team a little more than a year later as the communications and engagement director.
So why is that anecdote relevant for our 2022-23 Annual Report? Well, partly because it’s always soul-filling to reflect on some of your most memorable life experiences—writing that last paragraph transported me back to that brief but wonderful moment in time with the love of my life in the passenger seat and a brand new adventure ahead of us. But more than that, I included it because it shows us that the wonders of the Gorge are truly singular. Everything about this place makes you feel something—awe, inspiration, energy, peace, ambition even—and a thing like that can never be taken for granted. For people who don’t live in or near the Gorge, visiting can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s important for us to appreciate how exceptionally lucky we are to experience this place as our home each day. I can speak for Friends staff and board when I say that we recognize both the beauty and fragility of the Gorge, and we are so grateful to get up each morning and work to make this complex place, bit by bit, more protected for our generation and all those to come.
Friends went through a lot of change in the last year. New preserves; new initiatives; new staff and board members; a new magazine that includes, for the first time ever, a Spanish version and audio recordings in both English and Spanish; and even a new website on the way. But as much as things evolve, they also stay constant. Friends has maintained our relentless focus on protecting the landscapes, habitats, and resources of the Gorge through litigation, advocacy, land acquisition, and public education.
As you turn the pages of this publication, you’ll learn more about our accomplishments in the past year, but for now, I want to leave you with one parting thought—something that I’ve learned in my short time living in Oregon and working for Friends. The Gorge is not a guarantee. It’s a dynamic, constantly evolving place full of breathtaking vistas, majestic wildlife, sensitive ecosystems, and vibrant human communities. But, like so many beautiful places on Earth, it’s also extremely vulnerable. Climate change and its impacts on weather patterns, river temperatures, and wildlife migration; irresponsible development; habitat loss and extinction; and overtourism are constant threats to this treasure that we all love.
That’s why we’re here, and that’s why you’re here. Together, along with our partners and the sovereign tribes of the Gorge, we are the keepers of the magic. We are so proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last year with you on our side, and we hope you are too. Thank you for all that you do to keep the Gorge wondrous, wild, and open to all.
Communications & Engagement Director