Giving thanks to those who love and protect our natural spaces

In this Thanksgiving week of counting blessings and gathering with loved ones, we can’t help thinking about how grateful we are to live and work in such a naturally beautiful part of the world where people — for the most part — still value ideals that bring the community together and work toward a better future for our youth.  

Camas-Washougal residents are especially lucky to live in Washington state’s entrance to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Where else in the world can you hop in your car and take a day trip to an area that encompasses 85 miles’ worth of protected rainforests, farmlands and grasslands alongside the nation’s fourth-largest river? Where else can you wake up in the morning, take a 45-minute drive and visit more than half a dozen waterfalls plus a few spectacular Columbia River viewpoints? 

This year we are especially grateful for the folks who help protect the Gorge and preserve its wonder for future generations. 

For anyone local who has wondered how they might join these efforts, the nonprofit Friends of the Columbia Gorge is the perfect place to start. 

Founded in 1980, the Friends group is dedicated to, as they put it, “safeguarding the Gorge and ensuring the natural wonders found today will be preserved for generations to come.”

The group promotes the positives of the Gorge — its hikes, waterfalls, animal habitats, cultural resources and volunteer opportunities — while fighting to protect the area from “irresponsible development” and the ravages of climate change.  

“Being an effective long-term advocate and steward of this amazing place means building bridges across different points of view,” the Friends group states on its website. “It also requires bringing together a broad and diverse coalition of people who share a common love for the Gorge and want to see it responsibly stewarded and protected.” 

It is easy to appreciate the need to protect an area like the Gorge, which is so breathtaking in its natural beauty and wildness that it’s hard to feel anything but awe in the face of it. But protecting our smaller, less awe-inspiring natural areas is equally important. 

Research has shown that spending time in nature — even if that “nature” is your closest city park — has a profound impact on our physical and mental health. One 2019 study even found that just offering students a view of the natural world helps those children have better self-control. Adults who live near green spaces also showed better memory and recall than their peers who didn’t have the luxury of being able to so easily access natural spaces during the course of their regular day. 

“Even the sounds of nature may be recuperative. … (Research) study participants who listened to nature sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better on demanding cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds like traffic and the clatter of a busy cafe,” American Psychological Association noted in an April 2020 article.

We have noticed that many of the people who regularly voice the most conservative, anti-tax sentiments during public meetings before the Camas City Council and other local government bodies like to rail against former city officials’ decision to purchase hundreds of acres of natural “Legacy Lands” near Lacamas Lake. They question why the city would spend millions of dollars on such a purchase. But anyone who has sat through public meetings in Camas over the past few years knows community members are craving more natural areas, more trails, more parks, more green space — more opportunities to leave the clamor of urban and even suburban living behind for a couple hours of the peace and solitude that can only be found in nature. 

We recognize the value of preserving our natural spaces and investing in the parks, trails, forests and wilderness areas — especially as we prepare to face the harsh realities of climate change — that so often don’t get the respect that “safety” services like police and fire get from local taxpayers. And so, this Thanksgiving season, we give our thanks to those who have had the foresight to protect our area’s diminishing natural areas and to all of our neighbors who will promise to help protect those spaces for generations to come.