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News / Life / Clark County Life

Columbia River Gorge goal: Recreation access for all

Efforts for accessible, inclusive Gorge viewpoint underway

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 21, 2023, 6:04am
17 Photos
Friends of the Columbia Gorge land trust director Dan Bell, left, landscape architect Jeramie Shane and senior designer Margaret Drew of Mayer/Reed and Friends communications director Tim Dobyns explore the Cape Horn Preserve. The site will get a new overlook and many accessible, inclusive amenities in years to come.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge land trust director Dan Bell, left, landscape architect Jeramie Shane and senior designer Margaret Drew of Mayer/Reed and Friends communications director Tim Dobyns explore the Cape Horn Preserve. The site will get a new overlook and many accessible, inclusive amenities in years to come. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAPE HORN — The rugged Columbia River Gorge is one of the scenic wonders of the Pacific Northwest. But not everyone has the ability or resources to enjoy it.

The conservation nonprofit Friends of the Columbia Gorge is planning a new Cape Horn viewpoint and gathering place that’s accessible and inclusive in just about every way. Over the past year, the group has sought advice from people of color, local American Indian tribes, older adults, disability advocates and families with young children — as well as the U.S. Forest Service — on how the site can make everyone feel welcome.

“It’s such a spectacular property,” said Dan Bell, Friends of the Gorge land trust director, during a recent stroll around the site.

Cape Horn Trail hikers may notice, off the dead-end road you cross before approaching the Nancy Russell Overlook, a gated driveway that leads into a tree-lined private property. Friends of the Columbia Gorge bought that 55-acre site a few years ago, Bell said.

17 Photos
A bench and wooden-stump end tables overlook the Columbia River from Cape Horn Preserve.
Columbia River Gorge access: Cape Horn Photo Gallery

It’s mostly rolling pasture, but a rental house sits at one end, yards from a bluff that offers a prime easterly view of the Columbia Gorge.

The project aims to share this spectacular view with people who can’t hike to the nearby Nancy Russell Overlook. To make that happen, Friends plans to add parking, along with other amenities (including restrooms) to make the site accessible and welcoming to all.

As it slopes gently upward toward the bluff, the pasture also offers unexpected views of mountains and ridges in the opposite direction, away from the Gorge. The project will maximize those views, said landscape architect Jeramie Shane of Portland design firm Mayer/Reed, which is working with Friends of the Gorge.

A habitat restoration effort will encourage growth of a white oak grove. Bell said that will require removal of some of the boundary-line fir trees, which were preferred by Pacific Northwest settlers and farmers and came to dominate much of today’s landscape.

The project will demolish the house and other structures on the site and may add picnic shelters with grills.

“Different people recreate in different ways. For some family groups and tribal groups, gathering places are very important,” Bell said.

The project will add environmental, scientific and cultural education stations along a new trail loop. Concept designs for that trail show surfaces and widths that are aimed at being inclusive to all.

“It won’t be just a trailhead parking lot,” Bell said of the transformed site. “There’ll be more to do than just take a single trail to a single overlook.”

The plan is likely years away from fruition. Friends of the Gorge will apply for a $250,000 grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. Winning the grant will allow Friends and Mayer/Reed to take the next step of applying for an initial permit from Skamania County, Bell said.

Margaret Drew, a senior designer at Mayer/Reed, participated in the recent site visit by riding her motorized scooter until the pasture got too bumpy. Then Drew had to get out and walk, which wasn’t easy for her, she said.

Drew said she was born with a form of dwarfism. She loves the great outdoors, but hiking on irregular ground can be tough for her. Going long distances just isn’t possible.

“It’s going to be for all of us,” Drew said of the Cape Horn project. “It will let people pick their own adventures.”

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