Columbia Gorge Scenic Area: Controversial act, beautiful book

May 21, 2011

The views are breathtaking. The battles, intense. Advocates unite and adversaries square-off on issues of land, water, wildlife, air-quality, property rights, and development.

With the stakes high, individuals, cities, counties, states and the federal government have all fought to determine the future of the world-renowned 85 mile-long expanse of unsurpassed natural beauty - The Columbia River Gorge.

That is the intrigue which Peter Marbach, nationally-known landscape photographer and his writing partner, Janet Cook, have teamed up to capture in images and text.

Their new book, entitled: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area - 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, illustrates the significant legislative milestone in the controversial union of these disparate, sometimes warring, interests and the unique land that has brought them together.

Marbach and Cook will release a breathtaking photo-essay book on May 24, in time to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act's signing into law.

Marbach and Cook's anniversary tome documents how two states, six counties, nineteen communities, and the federal government all came together, despite major obstacles, discord and opposition, to produce one of the most unique collaborations of environmental preservation and human cohabitation.

The Scenic Act, according to Marbach, has turned out to be a "model of coexistence between conservation and economic vitality unlike anything else in the world."

Through his exquisite photographic images, Marbach has managed to capture the lush and varied textures of the Gorge's physical landscapes and the importance of the human inhabitants sharing that geography.

"The biggest challenge for me as a photographer was to find views that have never been seen or to find fresh ways to present known views," said Marbach.

A sample photo, not included in the book but provided to the Hood River News to give a flavor of the final publication's typical photos, helps illustrate Marbach's successful eloquence in that goal: An evocative sunrise photo from atop Mount Hood shows a golden ribbon of the Columbia in the background of the snow-topped peak, while simultaneously drawing our eye to the small, victorious hiker poised on the highest point - a perfect marriage of natural grandeur and human connection.

With similar dexterity, Cook fashions a golden ribbon of stories which guide the reader from the area's geologic formation through its current environmental and political challenges.

"The architecture of the Scenic Act - its language, the way it was set up - was brilliant," said Cook. With clarity of expression, Cook's writing helps the reader understand how that "architecture" was built, and who the players were in securing a future for this national treasure.

According to Cook, the story of the Gorge's protection, alongside its human inhabitants, is punctuated by ironic moments - often as dramatic and contrasting as the geography of the Gorge itself.

The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area Act was signed into law on Nov. 17, 1986, by then President Ronald Reagan, a leader not known for progressive environmental policy.

That official legislative moment, reportedly marked by the President holding his nose as he signed, was a perfect illustration of the contested, yet successful journey traveled by the legislation and its supporters.

Even with all the twisted pathways and sentiments, the results of 25 years of protection are still quite evident to anyone who moves beyond the edges of Troutdale's or Camas' ever expanding urban scattershot sprawl into the vast, majestic and unspoiled threshold of the Gorge.

When asked about what hoped for result prompted him to create the book, Marbach responded, "I hope people will take time out and celebrate the fact that this happened and that we can be grateful for this beautiful place we have to live in and play in. And, I hope people will honor that and be civil with one another."

Marbach noted that once he conceived of the project, many partners came on board to help him and Cook tell the story.

"This was a real collaboration with a broad spectrum of support from the community," said Marbach, referring to his many business and organizational sponsors including: The Trust for Public Lands, Skamania Lodge, Insitu, Hood River Inn, Columbia River Gorge Visitor's Association, Skamania County, Friends of the Gorge, Columbia River Gorge Commission, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, Multnomah Falls Lodge and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area office.

In addition to financial sponsors of the book, eight individuals contributed their differing perspectives on the Act in essay form and these are included in the text. Essayists represent a cross-section of interests including an environmentalist, a geologist, Gorge Commission members and staff, political and business representatives and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla.

Former President Jimmy Carter also provided a personal note to be included in the publication, fittingly summarizing the project with the following:

"The Columbia River Gorge is an iconic American landscape, blessed with unspeakable beauty, rich in tribal culture, and made historic by the travels of Lewis and Clark. Peter Marbach's exquisite imagery and Janet Cook's eloquent essays remind us of the simple joys of connecting with the land and the importance of preserving precious sites for the generations to come."

Copies of the book featuring about 60 unique photos and accompanying text, will be available for purchase for $29.95 at the May 24 book release event.

Regional stores carrying the book include Waucoma Bookstore, Klindt's Books in The Dalles, Multnomah Falls Lodge, Skamania Lodge, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, and other Gorge locations.

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