In 1980, the western Columbia Gorge’s iconic vistas were on the brink of destruction. The new I-205 bridge would soon link the vulnerable century farms high above the Columbia River in Skamania County to downtown Portland. Every generation since 1907 had tried to protect the Gorge from haphazard development, but had failed. This was the last opportunity, not just to protect a world-class landscape, but to fulfill Russell’s dream of a major park at Cape Horn that mirrored Crown Point across the river. Blair provides a behind-the-scenes look at Russell’s campaign to create a park and trail at Cape Horn which, in many ways, is a microcosm of her broader fight to establish the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, where successes were temporary and failure would be permanent.
Bowen Blair is an attorney who, as former executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge and senior vice president for the Trust for Public Land, has helped protect some of the nation’s most important lands. He has overseen the transfer of several hundred thousand acres to public and tribal ownership, and personally negotiated the purchase of over thirty properties, including Hetes’wits Wetes (“Precious Land”), a 10,300-acre ranch near Hells Canyon that marked the Nez Perce Tribe’s first return to Oregon since the War of 1877, and a $32 million conservation easement over 4,000 acres of old growth forest for the Quinault Indian Nation. In the Gorge, Blair helped draft and lobby the National Scenic Area Act and negotiated the purchase of Dalles Mountain Ranch, Lyle Point, and hundreds of acres at Cape Horn, Rowena, and along the Mosier Twin Tunnels. Blair was appointed by two Oregon governors to the Columbia River Gorge Commission, which he chaired. His book, A Force for Nature: Nancy Russell’s Fight to Save the Columbia Gorge, will be published in October by Oregon State University Press.