By Kevin Gorman, Guest Columnist
If you love the Columbia Gorge but don’t live there, you’ve probably heard me and others discourage you over the last two weeks from going out to gawk at the Eagle Creek fire and its aftermath. With firefighters and road crews hard at work, limiting traffic congestion was critical. But, we’ve turned a corner, and I’d like to ask you to consider reacquainting yourself with the place you love so dearly — for yourself as well as the Gorge communities.
Two weeks ago, in the midst of the Eagle Creek fire, the primary question I was asked was, “what can I do to help?” While that question may feel less urgent now, it certainly is not. The Gorge communities have been devastated by the fire, and they need our love and support. These communities help make the Gorge a wonderful place to visit. You can’t take for granted that your favorite restaurants, museums, brewpubs and wineries will always be there. Hotels and restaurants have already laid off staff. Vacation rentals experienced massive cancellations. Several businesses are wondering if they will make it through the winter.
Here is my pitch to you: after weeks of stifling heat and then heavy rains, we are in for a nice stretch of weather, and no place is more beautiful than the Columbia Gorge in the fall. Friends’ Find a Hike page (at https://gorgefriends.org/hike-the-gorge/find-a-hike.html) offers over 47 hikes not affected by the fires. Consider venturing out on a new hike and explore the wonders of the Gorge. Or sign up for our all-inclusive Foliage and Fall Wine Play and Stay Weekend, Oct. 6-8 in Dufur, Oregon. Or create your own adventure (using Columbia Gorge Getaways book by Laura O. Foster), but make sure you visit one or more of the affected communities: from Cascades Locks, North Bonneville, Stevenson, Carson and Home Valley to Hood River, Bingen and White Salmon to Mosier, Lyle and The Dalles. All have been affected and would welcome you. Thank the merchants and businesses for their perseverance and resilience during these past few weeks.
While your love for the Gorge likely resides in its wild places, it is the communities that have put on the finishing touches to make the Gorge a world-class destination. Let’s use the coming weeks and months to extend our gratitude for all they do.
P.S. Though we have turned a corner, please exercise caution and patience when you visit the Gorge. Many trails and forests are closed; please respect that and allow these places to heal. While Interstate 84 eastbound is still closed, recognize that your drive may be longer, plan for it and enjoy the scenery. If you want to observe the effects of the fire, do so from designated parking areas only, not along the side of the road.
Kevin Gorman is the executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge. For more information about the Friends, visit www.gorgefriends.org.