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Columnist Sharon Nesbit shares the story of Gertrude Glutsch Jensen, who saved the Columbia River Gorge.

COURTESY PHOTO: TROUTDALE HISTORICAL SOCIETY - Gertrude Jensen, left, and an unknown companion, came to Troutdale as the freeway was beginning in the late 1940s to promote a billboard urging drivers to enjoy the Historic Columbia River Highway.

SHARON NESBITOn March 8 we females got one day to mark as Women's Day. While I have a notion to campaign for more time (idly wondering where any of us would be without women) our single day of observance got me to thinking of Gertrude Glutsch Jensen.

She was almost a caricature of Portland club woman. Matronly in the extreme, always in hosiery and sensible shoes, a dress fitted to a big bosom and hips, all topped with a large hat. But under that hat was a canny mind capable of saving the Columbia River Gorge.

Clubs, back in the day before women had much voice in public matters, were communities that gave them that voice. One woman could be ignored, but 30 of them in a garden club, or 4-H or at the library could make noise.

Gertrude was a member of the Portland Women's Forum where she found her voice and convinced them to make the Columbia River Gorge their mission.

She was married briefly and had a son, but also had money of her own from her wealthy family. Regardless, she worked as a newspaper reporter for a time, then went into real estate. I have never done the latter, but I am pretty sure that she didn't get rich working for a newspaper. Still, journalism likely helped give her a voice that would be heard along the Columbia River in two states.

You would like to think that she drove one day to the Chanticleer Inn site at Corbett, now Portland Women's Forum Scenic Viewpoint, and saw the gorge and was struck with inspiration, but it didn't happen that way. A recent history on the Oregon Historical Society website revealed a story I did not know. Gertrude's mother was deaf and likely mentally ill or depressed or all of those. But Gertrude resolved to take her mother on an outing and found a bus tour to Multnomah Falls.

This is how she remembered it for the Oregon Historical Society: "When she got down off the bus, she looked up at the falls and she smiled, the first time in all this long time. She smiled and she threw a kiss and she spelled out b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. The tears came to my eyes. I couldn't hardly believe it that she'd smiled, and that there was something in life that she loved that she saw again. From then on, she improved and she got well. For many years she was herself again. Not many years, but it was two or three years."

It was in that then that Gertrude resolved to buy an automobile and take her mother for a ride every day. Those trips were often to the gorge over the Historic Columbia River Highway.

One day, mother in tow, brought Gertrude to question activity in the woods near Wahkeena Falls. Rolling up in her big car to a small shack, she found a man who told her the land had been sold for back taxes and was being logged. The timber wasn't much good he said, and would be sold for wood chips. She learned that Multnomah County was selling most of the land along the gorge's most scenic sites for back taxes, a few bucks an acre.

She went back to the Portland Women's Forum, found another Gertrude (Dunn), and together they did the research that established her case and began her cause. She began working on land swaps to save gorge sites and devoted the rest of her life to preservation of the gorge, becoming the first head of the Columbia Gorge Commission.

In her later years she questioned creation of the National Scenic Area, though another woman, Nancy Russell, this time from a garden club, argued successfully that the bi-state pact would save the gorge and protect its sites.

Gertrude Jensen died in 1986 before she could see the full effects of the national scenic area, but she left behind a gorge that was worth the trouble, saving it one acre at a time.

Sharon Nesbit can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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