The Columbia River Gorge Commission this week hired Krystyna Wolniakowski as its executive director, making her the seventh head of the bistate agency.
Wolniakowski officially accepted the position Tuesday. But it wasn’t exactly her first day on the job. She joined the agency as interim executive director in March.
“It felt like a five-month interview,” Wolniakowski said.
Wolniakowski was initially chosen to lead the Gorge commission during the transition following the departure of former executive director Darren Nichols. Ultimately, Wolniakowski said she decided to seek the permanent position because she believes in the agency’s mission and feels equipped to serve it.
“It combines so much of my 30 years of experience. I really believe that the National Scenic Area is a very unique, very special place,” Wolniakowski said. “It’s a place that millions of people enjoy, but it’s also a place with communities.”
The Gorge commission, led by a 13-member body of appointed leaders, oversees policy and land-use decisions in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The agency’s stated mission is to protect natural and cultural resources in the Gorge while encouraging economic growth in existing urban areas.
The agency has struggled with limited resources in recent years. It currently functions on an annual budget of less than $900,000 and a staff of just six people.
Wolniakowski was chosen from a pool of more than 70 applicants, according to the Gorge commission. Damon Webster, Clark County’s appointed member on the commission, described a “quiet confidence” that Wolniakowski brings to the agency and the work she’s done to build partnerships.
“She’s very much a consensus builder, which we need. The position is not an easy one,” Webster said. “It’s a long list of people that you have to be able to interact with.”
Among Wolniakowski’s early priorities are organizing an upcoming summit with Native tribes in the region, drafting a work plan for the next two years, and reaching out to legislators and other partners in both states, she said.
Wolniakowski previously spent 14 years as director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s regional office in Portland. She also recently served as a special adviser to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.
Wolniakowski has more than three decades of conservation and management experience, according to the Gorge commission. Last month, the president of Poland honored Wolniakowski for her work in philanthropy and development of environmental partnerships in the country from 1990 to 2000.
Gorge commission members hired Wolniakowski in a unanimous vote.
“We believe Krystyna has the right balance of experience and qualifications for the commission, especially as we look forward to the next decade of our work in the Gorge,” commission chair Keith Chamberlain said in a released statement.