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Know the West

Columbia Champion

  In the early '80s, when construction started on the massive Glen Jackson bridge across the Columbia River, opening up the Washington side of the river to Portland commuter sprawl, Nancy Russell took action. She founded the 3,200-member Friends of the Columbia Gorge, parlayed hard-won media backing for protection of the Gorge into support from local senators, and even loaned out her own money to buy crucial pieces of private property along the river.

The bridge went up, but Russell's efforts paid off in another way: In 1986, the Columbia River Gorge was declared a National Scenic Area, the nation's first. That legislation promotes economic development in 13 existing urban areas in the Gorge while establishing a set of land-use regulations intended to protect the natural and scenic resources in the rest of the area.

Last fall, The Conservation Fund recognized Russell's hard work with the American Land Conservation Award and $50,000 from the Catto Charitable Foundation. Nonetheless, the fight to protect the river goes on, and Russell notes that there's "still constant pressure to weaken land-use protection."

To nominate a "citizen conservationist" for the American Land Conservation Award, go to www.conservationfund.org, or call 703/525-6300.

Contact Friends of the Columbia Gorge at www.gorgefriends.org or 503/241-3762.