ASLA Oregon LANDbytes JULY 2011 Launch Feature:
New Gorge Overlook Opens
Dedication Coincides with the 25th Anniversary of the Creation of the Gorge Scenic Area
By Ben Johnson
Looking to the east on a clear, sunny day you can see the sparkling Columbia hundreds of feet below winding its way between rocky cliffs; Beacon Rock can be made out in the distance. Is this Crown Point? No, it is Cape Horn, a more low-key, contemplative viewpoint on the Washington side, with a vista as breathtaking as any that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer. The viewpoint, currently open to the public, will be dedicated on August 13. It honors the passion and foresight of local activist Nancy Russell, who founded the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and was instrumental in the creation of the Gorge as a National Scenic Area.
This summer marks the 25th Anniversary of President Ronald Reagan signing the historic Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act, made possible by the advocacy of Russell and the support of Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield. The Scenic Area is a local and national treasure equal in significance and stature to our national parks. It is both tranquil and dramatic with its steep cliffs, panoramic vistas, cascading waterfalls, and lush forests. Through the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a non-profit citizens group established to help preserve and protect scenic, natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Gorge, Russell helped discourage private development and purchase privately owned lands outside the urban areas to gift to public agencies, such as the Forest Service. There are many great viewpoints, attractions, and trails like Crown Point, Multnomah Falls, and Eagle Creek, that will be forever preserved thanks to the Friends.
However, many of the most well-known attractions are on the south side of the river along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Russell dreamed of a destination on the Washington side that would match the scenic qualities of the popular Oregon sites. Cape Horn fulfills this dream. Twenty minutes from downtown Vancouver, along the cliffs above SR 14, Cape Horn peaks from high above the Columbia, across from Crown Point. Hiking enthusiasts have long enjoyed the area, creating a trail through forests and cliffs to open meadows just above the viewpoint. Russellâ€™s vision for Cape Horn began in the early 1980s, when much of the land was in possession of a private developer and slated for a subdivision. Nancy and her husband, Bruce Russell, provided a no-interest loan to the Trust for Public Land, enabling purchase of the land for future public access. However it was not until 2007, that the Friends of the Columbia Gorge continued the undertaking and raised an additional $4.2 million to purchase two remaining private parcels, demolish an existing house, and construct the Cape Horn Overlook. The Friends asked Walker Macy, along with Guinett Masonry, to help design and build the overlook along the upper plateau of the land. The design takes its cues from the spectacular views and quiet spirit of the space, and uses locally quarried basalt stone to connect it to the materials used in other historic Gorge sites. With its simple geometry, the overlook provides an inviting place for contemplation and rest.
The Forest Service, in conjunction with the Washington Trail Association and Cape Horn
Conservancy, is currently making long-term improvements to the trail. Hikers will soon be able to cross under SR 14 though two tunnels, providing safe access to the portion of the trail which traverses the cliffs of the Columbia River. Greenworks Landscape Architects designed and detailed the stone work for the underpass to blend seamlessly into the historic Gorge vernacular. In the future, the overlook will be fully accessible from a parking lot within a half mile of the site. The new Cape Horn Overlook and improved trail network are sure to become a beloved addition to the Gorge Scenic area, enjoyed by generations to come.
All images courtesy of Walker Macy