At Beacon Rock, we get by with a little help from our friends

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A dramatic sunrise serves as the backdrop for Beacon Rock, as photographed from the new property by Cate Hotchkiss.

By Meryl Lassen, 
Washington State Parks Communications Consultant 
Former volunteer, Friends Towns to Trails program

I still remember my first “big hike.”

Three buddies suggested Hamilton Mountain as a conditioner for Mount St. Helens. The seven-plus miles and 2,000 feet of gain took all day. At one point I sat on the trail - in the heart of Beacon Rock State Park - and cried.

That was 12 years ago. I’ve since become a backpacker/hiker/mountaineer and switched careers to work in the outdoor industry.

My long-ago hiking group jokes that Hamilton Mountain created a monster. But my story shows how people can learn to love nature in a safe and supported environment - and then take it from there.

Beacon Rock offers several gateways to nature. From horseback riding to boating and paddling, and from chasing waterfalls to geological and Civilian Conservation Corps history, this park near Portland and Vancouver has something for most of us. It is tremendously accessible, sitting on both sides of State Route 14, with public transportation from Vancouver and Washougal during the summer.

Beacon Rock is a westside gateway to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, a gorgeous stretch of land and water that makes up much of the Oregon-Washington border.

A sweeping view of the COlumbia River from behind an ornate iron guard rail on the Beacon Rock trail

The iconic Beacon Rock hike overlooks the Columbia River and is spectacular at sunrise. By Meryl Lassen.

Expansion, Improvements, Access

The Gorge, with its diverse landscapes, species and recreation, has been preserved in both states largely thanks to Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Parks has been fortunate to find such a friend in this passionate and committed land trust. Our organizations have worked together for years to serve such parks as Columbia Hills, Maryhill, Goldendale Observatory, Doug’s Beach, Spring Creek Hatchery, Reed Island and, of course, Beacon Rock. Our partnership has involved trailhead ambassador programs and public information campaigns on wildfires, park closures and more.

The Gorge, with its diverse landscapes, species and recreation, has been preserved in both states largely thanks to Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

More recently an opportunity arose that made Parks even more grateful to them:

In 2020, a local couple, Sharon and John Jamieson, were selling a tract of land next to the park, and they hoped to see it preserved. At the time, State Parks did not have the budget to buy the land, though our Parks planners had some great ideas for its use.

A sweeping view of the Columbia River from the Hamilton Mountain Trail

Stunning views can be had on the Hamilton Mountain trail at Beacon Rock. By Meryl Lassen.

Our multi-year plan for Beacon Rock includes building a roundabout at the park’s entrance and exit, which will increase traffic safety on SR14. The design puts a pedestrian tunnel under the highway for safe crossing and it expands parking options, particularly for day users. Parks is now in the process of requesting a budget for the construction. The goal is to have the work done by 2030.

We could not have reached this point, or even hoped for this opportunity, without our partners and friends at Friends of the Columbia Gorge!

We are so happy for Friends’ quick action, commitment to keeping these treasured lands and waters safe and gorgeous and willingness to collaborate on this project.

We’re excited to continue our work together!

A park ranger and man stand in a field with a certificate of thanks.
A selfie of two female people, one with dark hair and sunglasses, one with blond hair

Top photo: Beacon Rock Ranger and Area Manager Heath Yeates and Friends Land Trust Director Dan Bell (L - R) hold a "thank you" certificate at a ceremonial transfer of the property from Friends to Parks. By Stan Hall.

Above: Parks Communications Consultant Meryl Lassen and Friends Towns to Trails Manager Renee Tkach ride the trolley to the ceremonial transfer of the property from Friends to Parks.