Posted tagged ‘Columbia River’

Million Dollar View – Postscript

November 20, 2010

Beacon Rock rising above the Columbia, as viewed from the Oregon side

In March 2009, I posted this article about local hostility toward the public that has emerged in the Warrendale community, opposite Beacon Rock on the Columbia River. Last summer, James Ellis Koch, a 68-year-old resident in the area was arrested for firing a rifle and shotgun at fisherman anchored offshore his riverfront property, terrorizing the four men onboard.

The original article has now been updated with postscripts detailing the incident, and pointed observations on Warrendale’s vigilante culture by the sentencing Multnomah County judge Janice Wilson.

Indian Salmon Harvest

October 20, 2009
1930s painting of Indians fishing at Celilo Falls, as they had for thousands of years prior to white settlement of the Oregon Country.

1930s painting of Indians fishing at Celilo Falls, as they had for thousands of years prior to white settlement of the Oregon Country.

In recent years, conservationists have lined up against a proposed Indian Casino in the Columbia Gorge, and with good reason. While the project would certainly benefit the people of the Warm Springs tribe, it would also have unacceptable environmental effects on the Gorge (A better solution is to simply locate the casino in Portland, which is the obvious force driving the Cascade Locks location – separate article to follow).

But if you are a like-minded conservationist, you have an alternative for supporting the Native American economy that doesn’t involve slot machines. Simply pack a large cooler on your next visit to the Gorge, and stop by one of several roadside salmon markets, where Indians from the Gorge tribes sell fresh, “over the bank” chinook, coho, steelhead, sockeye, walleye and shad.

1930s rendering of Indian fisherman working the narrows below Celilo Falls

1930s rendering of Indian fisherman working the narrows below Celilo Falls

A surprisingly small number of urbanites who visit the Gorge support these fishermen, possibly because they don’t understand the fishery. But if you have never had fresh salmon, you will be pleasantly surprised at the difference in flavor between the tribal fisheries and the fish-farm salmon that your local supermarket is likely selling as “fresh” (dyed pink to disguise its origin, since fish farms produce a gray meat in salmon).

The tribes also sell the finest smoked salmon available, anywhere — after all, they have had thousands of years to perfect the smoking process, and smoked salmon can be eaten plain, as a snack or with hors d’oeuvres, or used in salads, pasta, casseroles or other cooked dishes. Fresh and smoked salmon freezes well, so buying during the fall harvest, in particular, can provide for a full winter of salmon in your diet. This is an excellent option when fish isn’t available at the roadside markets, and helps the tribes sustain their economy over the winter months, as well.

The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes have had permanent rights to harvest salmon from the Columbia River under a series of 1854-55 treaties with the United States Government. While these treaties have been subject to much litigation — and questionable “compensation” agreements allowed for destruction of Celilo Falls in the 1950s — the tribes manage the fisheries today in cooperation with the state governments of Oregon and Washington through the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission. The focus of the Fisheries Commission is on habitat recovery and sustainable fishing practices, and ensuring that this ancient tradition isn’t lost.

Indians fishing Celilo Falls with dip nets in the early 1900s, prior to construction of dams at Bonneville and The Dalles.

Indians fishing Celilo Falls with dip nets in the early 1900s, prior to construction of dams at Bonneville and The Dalles.

On a recent stop at the Cascade Locks market, beneath Bridge of the Gods, a young Indian in his teens asked me “if I knew any stories about Lewis & Clark”. I looked down at my faded t-shirt, commemorating the Lewis & Clark expedition, realizing why he had asked the question.

I responded with a few anecdotes from the expedition — how the Indians at Celilo had introduced the explorers to salmon, and in doing so, probably saved their lives. I also mentioned that the early white explorers unknowingly brought diseases with them that erased much of the native population, even before the huge waves of white settlers followed in the 1840s. To his apparent surprise, I also talked about the Corps of Discovery being the first true democracy in the United States, with an Indian woman (Sacajawea) and a black man (York) given equal voice at major turning points in the mission.

Upon that, he reached out, shook my hand, and said “thanks, man. I love to hear those stories.” But we both knew he was really testing my knowledge – and my respect for his native culture – to see if I was just another ignorant tourist in a Lewis & Clark t-shirt. I walked away with a bag of smoked salmon fillets and thinking what a complicated world it still is for young Native Americans.

You can learn more about the Indian Fishing Harvest at this official website, including the history of Indian fishing in the Columbia, where to find roadside stands, and how to buy fish from roadside vendors. Often, there are several vendors at a site, so if you plan to buy a few packages of fish, make your way from stand to stand, so that you support each of the vendors.

The Million Dollar View

March 22, 2009
Beacon Rock rising above the Columbia, as viewed from the Oregon side

Beacon Rock rising above the Columbia, as viewed from the Oregon side

Beacon Rock rises nearly 1,000 feet above the Columbia River, and forms the nucleus of some of the finest park lands on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. The famous network of catwalks and stairways installed on Beacon Rock in the 1920s leads thousands of visitors to the airy summit each year to marvel at the view.

Nineteenth-century engraving of an early Beacon Rock scene

Nineteenth-century engraving of an early Beacon Rock scene

Beacon Rock, itself, is a testament to conservation, having been saved from an early 1900s scheme to actually mine the monolith for quarry stone. Today, it is among the most visited — and best loved — spots in the Gorge, with campgrounds, picnic areas and an impressive network of hiking and bicycling trails. But when the park boundaries were laid out for Beacon Rock, the Oregon side of the river was left out of the equation.

In the early days of white settlement, fish wheels operated in the shadow of Beacon Rock, along this section of the Oregon shore, harvesting salmon from the vast migrations that moved up the river.

Early settler Frank Warren operated a cannery on the site, and the town that grew around his operation became known as Warrendale. (editor’s note: Frank Warren was the only Oregon resident known to have perished on the Titanic; his wife Anna was among the few to escape in a lifeboat, and survived, while her husband stayed behind on the ship to help other women and children into lifeboats)

Present-day view of Beacon Rock from the Oregon side

Present-day view of Beacon Rock from the Oregon side

After the demise of fish wheels and the Warren cannery in the early 1900s, Warrendale began a slow slide into obscurity. Today, the former town site has largely been replaced by Interstate-84, and a dozen homes now occupy this remnant of private parcels along the Columbia River.

This is where the story gets a bit ugly. Like all inholdings in the Gorge and around Mount Hood, the river front homes in Warrendale suffer from trespassing — both by well-meaning visitors simply trying to find access to the river, and by less courteous visitors who clearly don’t respect the numerous private property postings.

The lure of the river here is undeniable. Beacon Rock towers across the Columbia, and sandy beaches line the river in summer and fall. Yet, no public access exists along this stretch of Oregon shoreline, and thus the tension between land owners and visitors.

Tensions run high in Warrendale as property owners struggle to block visitors from trespassing to reach Columbia River beaches

Tensions run high in Warrendale as property owners struggle to block visitors from trespassing to reach Columbia River beaches

Some landowners have taken drastic steps, in response, posting profane signs that have shocked more than a few families who have stumbled into Warrendale. Less confrontational signs show up everywhere, making it abundantly clear that the public is not welcome in this community.

Even the official signposts in Warrendale bear blunt warnings for visitors

Even the official signposts in Warrendale bear blunt warnings for visitors

There’s no doubt that the view from these homes is among the most spectacular anywhere, but in the long term, should this stretch of beach be reserved for just a few? After all, were it not for the fish wheel and cannery that once stood here, this would likely be public land, with public access for all. Is it possible that in the long term, this unique spot can be dedicated to public access?

Not in the near term, in all likelihood. Though the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA) receives funds each year from Congress for the express purpose of acquiring private parcels in critical locations, most acquisitions are for properties that directly abut federal or state lands, or are in pristine condition. The dozen homes in Warrendale are neither — they are separated from public lands by Interstate-84 and largely developed.

One viable option for the CRGNSA is to follow the lead of private land acquisition organizations, like the Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Lands, and purchase conservation easements or living trusts for these properties. For private conservation groups, these have been valuable real estate tools for eventually bringing private lands into the public realm. Another option is a partnership between the CRGNSA and one of these organizations to reach a similar result.

It’s not too soon for the CRGNSA to be thinking about this possibility. This is a million dollar view that deserves to be enjoyed by all, not just a few.

Postscript: In June 2010, one of the riverfront homeowners in Warrendale, 68-year-old James Koch, threatened four salmon fishermen who were anchored for the night in their boat just offshore, then fired rifle shots toward the boat. After his arrest by Multnomah County authorities, he was found guilty of felony unlawful use of a weapon, misdemeanor menacing and misdemeanor recklessly endangering other.

During his trial, he called on neighbors who testified about the public encroaching on their riverfront property. In this November 3, 2010 Oregonian article, one of the fishermen, Steve Bruce, said he was “sickened by that attitude. It’s not just him (Koch), they all feel that they own the land under the water.”

Koch could face prison time, pending sentencing, and will lose is right to own or operate firearms.

Second Postscript: In November 2010, James Ellis Koch was sentenced in Multnomah County court to 60 days jail time and three years probation for firing weapons at four salmon fishermen who were anchored for the night in their boat just offshore from his Warrendale property.

In this November 19, 2010 Oregonian article, Judge Janice Wilson took issue not only with Koch’s unrepentant attitude, but also with the vigilante culture that exists in the Warrendale community. From the article:

James Koch also offered these words: “I’m sorry for whatever happened, the stuff that happened out there that evening.”

That prompted this response from the judge. “(That) is not an apology,” she said. “It’s actually worse than nothing. It’s an anti-apology.”

The judge said Koch wasn’t justified that night in the slightest. The fishermen weren’t making noise, they weren’t drinking and they were lawfully camping on the water. The judge said she was concerned about Koch’s attitude, as well as the attitudes of his neighbors.

Neighbors testified that they are so wary of strangers and crime that they stop unknown drivers traveling through their remote east county hamlet. Yet on the night Koch fired his weapons, they didn’t look to see what was going on because shots in their neighborhood aren’t unusual.

“I don’t know what that says about that neighborhood … but it’s a little bit scary,” the judge said. “… This vigilante culture in this neighborhood is of grave concern to the court.

Restoring Celilo Falls

February 14, 2009

Celilo Falls has always been phantom of history to me, since I born a few years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers buried the falls behind The Dalles Dam in 1957. My understanding of the falls and the loss it now represents has come from old photos and maps, and a few shaky film images.

The railroad bridge in the background of this iconic view is the key to locating the falls today

The railroad bridge in the background of this iconic view is the key to locating the falls today

Yet for many, the falls and the native culture surrounding them are alive and vibrant in their memories, thanks to seeing and experiencing them first-hand. For Native Americans, the vivid memories only add to the pain of losing a place that quite literally defined a people for millennia.

The idea of restoring the falls — even temporarily — has been suggested over the years, usually to be slapped down quickly by the Corps of Engineers as unfeasible, or even dangerous. In the late 1980s, a brief, 30th anniversary movement to temporarily draw down the pool behind the dam briefly gained local momentum before the federal agencies killed any talk of the idea. The Corps likely realized that revealing the falls to the public even once could make it politically impossible to ever refill the dam again.

This 1940s aerial view shows the falls and railroad bridge, looking south

This 1940s aerial view shows the falls and railroad bridge, looking south

The hostility of the federal agencies toward even acknowledging the falls fanned the rumors among the local tribes that the falls had, in fact, been purposely destroyed by the Corps of Engineers just before they were inundated. This rumor persisted until last year, when a new mindset among Corps managers spurred the agency to compile a comprehensive sonar map of the falls to show that they are quite intact, beneath the still surface of the reservoir.

The sonar confirmation of the intact falls has breathed new life into the hopes of many that the falls will not just someday be restored, but perhaps someday soon. This is where the restoration of Celilo Falls fits within the scope of the MHNP Campaign: the emerging environmental theme in the coming century is restoration, and no place in the Pacific Northwest is more deserving — perhaps even the nation, considering that 11,000 years of Native American culture at Celilo makes it the oldest continuously settled place in North America.

This map clip correlates today's landmarks to the aerial view of the falls, above

This map clip correlates today's landmarks to the aerial view of the falls, above

But the connection to Mount Hood is even more elemental: the mountain towers over the Celilo country like a beacon, and has been a similarly important feature in the culture of Lower Columbia tribes. Celilo and WyEast are connected, and so their restoration should be. A joined effort to heal these places expands the possibilities for both.

What will a restored Celilo Falls look like? Initially, it will likely be mineral-stained and muddy. But the new sonar maps confirm that silts have not overtaken the falls, so if the pool behind The Dalles Dam were simply lowered today, we would see a largely intact falls — perhaps even with traces of the cantilevered dip net fishing structures that once clung to the rocks around the falls. And over time, the falls would quickly recover to blend again with the surrounding landscape.

R. Swain Gifford's 1875 etching of Mount Hood towering over the Celilo Narrows is among the earliest geographically accurate renderings of the area

R. Swain Gifford's 1875 etching of Mount Hood towering over the Celilo Narrows is among the earliest geographically accurate renderings of the area

What would a restored Celilo Falls mean for the mid-Columbia economy? The immediate impact would be on power supplies, and it is unlikely that the falls could ever be restored without some alternate energy supply — perhaps a wind farm of equal wattage? — ensuring that no net loss in energy production would result.

The next big question would be impacts on shipping, but the good news here is that barges were already using the Celilo Canal to bypass the falls long before the dam was erected. The canal system would conceivably resume this function, if the falls were reborn, albeit with likely improvements and modernization.

These scene was photographed in the mid-1950s, just before the falls was inundated

These scene was photographed in the mid-1950s, just before the falls was inundated

What kind of protection should the restored Celilo Falls receive? That part is easy. The astonishing scope of history tied to the falls easily qualify the site for World Heritage status within the U.S. National Park System, perhaps as a National Historic Site. This would put the restored falls in a category with places like Mesa Verde, in Colorado, and provide the needed framework to preserve and understand the historic resources that lie beneath today’s reservoir.

Restoration of Celilo Falls is a long-term dream of so many, but movement in that direction really began as soon as the falls disappeared in 1957. The falls has never left our collective consciousness, and thus demands restoration.

Another small step toward restoration will occur in 2009, when the commemorative Confluence Project will bring an art installation to Celilo. The project is marking the two centuries since Lewis and Clark passed through the region, and the millennia of human history that makes Celilo unique. A small step, but also a bit more progress toward what I believe will be the inevitable restoration of Celilo Falls — under the gaze of a restored Mount Hood.


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