The Gorge, local natural areas deserve your respect and upkeep

The Columbia River Gorge and nearby natural outdoor areas — the Washougal River, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Cottonwood Beach and Lacamas Lake — offer the Camas-Washougal community the comfort and rehabilitation of nature in such a close proximity that it feels like they truly are in our backyard.

These places thrive on their own and give the community attractions rarely found in a busy city, but what have we been giving back?

Recently, there’s been more trash left by the rivers and along trails than some locals have ever seen.

The signs at Cottonwood Beach that signal visitors to pack out what they packed in have become more necessary.

The population increase in the area inevitably means that more people are soaking in the great parks around us, which calls for more personal responsibility to maintain the cleanliness of our natural sites, not less.

The article “Too much love for the Columbia River Gorge,” by Dameon Pesanti, published by The Columbian on July 23, 2017, quotes a U.S. Forest Service’s spokeswoman, Rachel Pawlitz, as saying that the most popular sites in the Gorge are suffering from parking shortages, traffic congestion, excess trash being left along the trails, people short-cutting switchbacks, half-buried feces and graffiti on historic buildings, signs, rocks and trees.

While everyone wants to enjoy the great places in our community, we must remember that it is our responsibility to maintain them.

There are many people in the community who abide by the “pack it in, pack it out” rule, but it’s certainly not everyone. Those who do care about our precious natural areas can lead by example and clean up litter when we see it, even if it’s not ours.

The last thing people want to see while on a hike or stroll by the water are other people’s beer cans, food wrappers and cigarette butts. It may be disturbing to pick up some of these items, but the people who visit after you will appreciate it, and should pay it forward by doing the same.

Nature is a great remedy for stress and offers us a way to unwind, clear our heads and connect to ourselves after a hectic day or week at work or school. For those gifts, it should be respected.

Travel Oregon, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and the U.S. Forest Services have recommendations for people visiting the Gorge and these rules easily apply to other local natural areas like the Washougal River.

The organizations recommend in their campaign “Ready, Set, GORGE!” that people help protect vital habitat by using only authorized trails and campsites; stop the spread of invasive species by using a boot brush; reduce carbon emissions and congestion by carpooling, taking a shuttle or biking; respect local cultures, practices and resources; and help Gorge-area businesses prosper by shopping locally.

Individuals can also help local natural areas by being aware of issues that could have tremendous impacts on the Gorge, such as the proposed coal and oil trains.

Locals have done a great job helping to defeat five out of six oil terminal proposals. However, Tesoro Savage oil terminal proposal, the largest oil-by-rail project in North America, is being reviewed by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee by August 31. After the recommendation, Inslee has 60 days to approve or deny the facility. Keep up on this issue, speak out and help save the natural areas that we so desperately need to maintain the wonder of the Camas-Washougal community.