Columbia Gorge: The Fight for Paradise

On November 17, OPB’s Oregon Field Guide aired a special 1-hour look at the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Act, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the legislation.

The show provides a comprehensive look at the history of the Gorge Act, its friends and foes and some of the future challenges, including those never anticipated when the legislation was written — such as the recent land rush for wind turbine sites. Several of the most prominent early defenders of the Gorge are included, including Chuck Williams and Nancy Russell.

The program also includes in-depth look at the Native American legacy in the Gorge, and the ironic effect of the Gorge Act bringing a surge of new residents since it was signed into law — all seeking a life amid the scenery, and bringing demand for hundreds of new homes and new industry to a new level in the Gorge.

The program overlooks the massive increase in recreation demand over the past three decades, and the lack of trails to serve the crowds. Not much attention is paid to the future role of federal stewardship in the Gorge, and especially the national park vision that Chuck Williams advocated during the fight for protection.

Tsagaglalal or She Who Watches (USFS)

Likewise, Senator Bob Packwood is given too much credit for passage of the Gorge Act (in his own words, of course, in typical Bob Packwood form), while Senator Mark Hatfield is not given enough. Had Hatfield been alive to comment, he would undoubtedly have given a humble account of his key role in developing the legislation. This political history might make for a future documentary on the evolution of the Gorge Act, itself, perhaps based on Carl Abbot’s book Planning a New West: The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Still, the program provides a very good overview of the Gorge Act over the past quarter century, and how much it has already changed the public/private balance of interests in the Gorge. Here is the documentary in full (approximately 55 minutes):