Columbia River Gorge Commission

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About the Scenic Area

The spectacularly beautiful Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area stretches 85 miles long and includes portions of three Oregon and three Washington counties. Formed by ancient volcanoes and sculpted by incredible floods, the Columbia River Gorge carves an impressive corridor through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington as the great river journeys to the Pacific Ocean. As the only sea-level route from the Great Basin to the Pacific Ocean, the Gorge is a land of contrasts. The western Gorge, with an average annual rainfall of 75 inches, is a place of misty mountains, rich forestlands and more waterfalls than any area in the country. The eastern Gorge, with an annual rainfall of less than 15 inches, is a place of rim-rock bluffs, rolling hills, and farm and ranchlands.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 17, 1986. The Act mandates the protection and enhancement of scenic, cultural, natural and recreation resources and the protection and support of the Gorge economy. A total of 292,500 acres were designated for special protection on both sides of the Columbia from the outskirts of Portland-Vancouver in the west to the semi-arid regions of Wasco and Klickitat counties in the east.
The Columbia River Gorge is more than just great scenery; it’s a place where thousands of people live, work and play. One thing that differentiates the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area from national parks and monuments is land ownership, as nearly half of the lands in the Scenic Area are in private ownership. Since the Scenic Area was created, new land uses have been reviewed for impacts to protected resources. Development occurs under a collaborative framework that protects the very resources that make the Scenic Area so special.
The National Scenic Area is categorized into three areas: Special Management Areas, General Management Areas and Urban Areas. Special Management Areas cover approximately 114,600 acres and contain some of the Gorge’s most sensitive resources. General Management Areas cover approximately 149,400 acres of land and all of the Columbia River – which contain a mixture of land uses including farming, logging, cattle grazing, public recreation and rural residential uses. Development on private lands is administered by Gorge counties and the Gorge Commission in Klickitat County, Washington. Development on Federal lands is reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service National Scenic Area Office. Thirteen Urban Areas are exempt from Scenic Area regulations: Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles in Oregon, and North Bonneville, Stevenson, Carson, Home Valley, White Salmon, Bingen, Lyle, Dallesport and Wishram in Washington. Lands held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are also exempt from Scenic Area regulation.
The Columbia Gorge is renowned for its spectacular beauty and stunning history. The Gorge's scenic resources span a diverse array of landscapes including rain forests, rolling farmlands and semi-arid grasslands. Cultural resources, epitomized by the Indian petroglyph “She Who Watches,” trace a human history in the Gorge that is 10,000 years old. They include prehistoric sites and historic structures. Natural Resources refer to wildlife, plants, streams, lakes, wetlands and riparian corridors that are found in abundance throughout the Scenic Area. And then there is recreation . . . The National Scenic Area is known worldwide for the variety and quality of its recreational opportunities: windsurfing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, and kiteboarding.
People visit the Scenic Area to view the unspoiled scenery and take advantage of the Gorge’s unparalleled recreational opportunities, which helps fuel the Gorge’s booming visitor and recreation industries. In recent years, new firms have located here in part due to the quality of life associated with these outstanding scenic and recreation resources. The Act also sustains the Gorge’s economic health by preserving important agricultural and forest lands.

Columbia River Gorge Commission
PO Box 730 | 1 Town & Country Square | 57 NE Wauna Avenue | White Salmon, WA 98672 | ph: 509-493-3323 | fax: 509-493-2229
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