Conservation groups push Congress to buy land seen by Lewis, Clark

4,000 ACRES: Keeping Columbia River Gorge site undeveloped is goal

The Associated Press - Tacoma News Tribune


PORTLAND, ORE - 4/9/02 - Three conservation groups are lobbying for the public purchase of about 4,000 acres of private land in the Columbia River Gorge, hoping to have it preserved as the Lewis and Clark expedition first saw it in 1805.

The Sierra Club, the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Trust For Public Lands are behind the effort to ensure $30 million is appropriated by Congress during the next three years.

Most of the trail followed by the expedition from 1803 to 1806 has been paved, plowed or covered by cities.

Much of the Columbia River Gorge also has been altered. Some features do remain, such as Beacon Rock in Washington to the many waterfalls in Oregon. Those are land features that the explorers remarked on in their journals. Although no one knows how many people will visit Oregon and Washington during the bicentennial, the potential for several million tourists is widely acknowledged.

"What will these visitors see ... ?" asked Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge. "More open space or more sprawl?"

Congress established the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in 1986 in an effort to protect one of the most beautiful areas in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, Congress has spent more than $49 million to buy 33,000 acres in the gorge, adding to a base of about 35,000 acres of existing federal forestlands. While some landowners in the gorge dislike restrictions on land use under the scenic area designation, the gorge remains a major tourist draw.

President Bush's budget for fiscal year 2002-2003, which begins in October, already includes $10 million for land acquisition in the Columbia Gorge. Landowners are offering about 6,900 acres there for sale under terms of a federal law allowing them to sell their land at appraised prices that assume no scenic area exists. Under those terms, their land is worth more because it could be developed. Most land in the gorge today is under strict land-use rules that prevent most development.

If the U.S. Forest Service does not make purchase offers in the next three years, the lands can be rezoned to allow for development ranging from logging to subdivisions, Gorman said.

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