Mark and Claudia Sanzone have shared many special moments in the Gorge, but some of their fondest memories lie with the kids from Washougal that they spend time with during Friends' Explore the Gorge outdoor learning program. During this special program they have a weeklong opportunity to take students from the local middle schools out into nature to introduce them to the Gorge. Hamilton Mountain is a place where many of the kids had never been even though it is practically in their own backyards. "Rodney Falls is beautiful," says Claudia, "and I am hoping that their experience will create new stewards of the Gorge. It is a real eye-opener for them to realize that it belongs to them."
Mark flies above the Gorge on a paraglider, so his experiences have an added perspective. "While viewpoints are great they do not match being several thousand feet above the river". When his mom visits them, she says the Gorge reminds her of Norway, where she grew up.
Moving from California in the late 70s, Claudia missed the Sierras and immediately joined Mazamas to get her climbing fix. Initially she saw the Gorge as a place to get to the top of peaks as quickly as she could but when she was introduced to the Gorge via some hiking buddies who were members of Friends, she began to realize the Gorge was a whole lot more. Friends' hikes were slower paced and she learned about the geology, wildflowers and wildlife of the Gorge: "It was spending time in the Gorge and truly seeing it with others who loved it that made me also fall in love with it."
Mark and Claudia agree that the work Friends does to protect land for future generations is very important and are happy to have been a part of the Preserve the Wonder land campaign. Their personal conservation philosophy aligns with Friends' that land should be accessible to all and, alluding to a sentiment shared by Friends' executive director Kevin Gorman, agree that the land needs to be protected from being "loved to death."
Both Claudia and Mark agree that when they decided to make Friends a part of their legacy that they wanted to do so not only for their grandkids to have access to a beautiful, protected Gorge but also to ensure more diversity among those who enjoy the Gorge. Claudia succinctly stated, "I'd like to see access for all and for everyone who goes there to feel welcome, safe and comfortable."
We couldn't agree more Claudia and Mark! Thanks you for all you do to make it possible both now and for the future!