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Home’s Removal Will Restore a Gorge-Ous View

July 26, 2008

By Kathie Durbin, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Jul. 26–CAPE HORN — Dave Bennick maneuvered his forklift into position at the front of the rambling, low-slung house. Daniel Casati revved up his chain saw and sliced through the posts supporting the front walkway’s roof. Bennick slid the forks under the roof section, deftly lifted it in one piece and set it down away from the house.

Bennick is a deconstruction pro with a national reputation. On this job, he’s a consultant to Green Home Construction, based in Mosier, Ore., which has been hired by Friends of the Columbia Gorge to remove a house perched on the rim of the gorge high above Cape Horn.

The materials will be sold to the Gorge Re-Build It Center in Hood River, Ore. Green Home Construction aims to reuse or recycle 90 percent of the materials by weight.

Sometime over the next year, when the $1 million, 5,500-square-foot house is gone, the asphalt removed and the land recontoured, the Forest Service will buy the four-acre property. The $570,000 for the purchase will come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Congress to dedicate offshore oil and gas revenues to buying land for conservation purposes.

Eventually, the Forest Service will build a trail here atop Cape Horn, just 25 minutes from Vancouver, which will offer eye-popping views of forests, meadows, Beacon Rock and points east.

For Friends of the Gorge, the project is the realization of a long-held dream.

In the 1980s, before Congress established the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to protect the gorge, a Skamania County developer proposed the 16-lot Rim View Estates subdivision here. No zoning rules were in place to stop the project.

So Nancy Russell of Portland, the founder of Friends of the Gorge, and her husband Bruce made a $300,000 no-interest loan to the Trust for Public Land, allowing the nonprofit to buy 12 of the 16 lots. Since 1986, the Forest Service has bought those 12 lots and more than 50 other properties at Cape Horn from land trusts and willing sellers.

The house that is being dismantled, known as the Cleveland property, is the only one ever built at Rim View Estates.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust bought it from its elderly owners in 2006, then launched a $4 million fundraising campaign to cover the cost of the purchase. To date, the trust has raised $3.6 million.

That same year, Nancy Russell acquired an option to buy a nearby house on 32 acres, known as the Collins property, with the understanding that its owners may remain in their home for the rest of their lives if they choose.

Before the Forest Service will buy either property, it requires that all structures be removed.

“Million-dollar houses usually stay put ,” said Friends executive director Kevin Gorman. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the natural landscape and create a spectacular gorge overlook.”

Friends hopes to install interpretive signs at the overlook describing the quarter-century effort to protect Cape Horn.

The four-acre lot is several hundred feet above the current Cape Horn viewpoint, a wide spot on busy Highway 14 that’s the only place motorists can pull over to take in one of the most spectacular views in the gorge.

The Cleveland property lot will connect with about 1,000 acres of adjacent public land. Friends envisions an eight-mile loop trail and family-friendly park. A makeshift loop trail on the bluff now detours around both properties, forcing the trail back 1,000 feet from the bluff for a half-mile.

Pam Campbell, natural resource specialist for the Forest Service’s national scenic area office, says no decision has been made about what route the new trail will follow. It might be a loop trail, she said, or it might be a spur connecting to the Washougal-to-Stevenson trail. Public comment on trail alternatives will be accepted later this year.

Removing the 25-year-old house, attached garage and barn and tearing up the asphalt will cost about $60,000, said Friends of the Gorge Land Trust manager Kate McBride. That’s actually 20 percent less than one contractor bid simply to demolish the buildings and haul the material to a landfill. “We really wanted to do deconstruction,” McBride said.

Disassembling any house carries surprises, Bennick said. Sticky sprayed-on foam insulation will make it impossible to recycle some of the lumber.

Ornamental trees and shrubs are being removed in favor of native species. “We allowed people to come and take the non-native plants,” McBride said.

The foundation will be dumped into the daylight basement and buried.

After everything is hauled away, the land trust will be required to recontour the land to a more natural grade and remove dirt fill and a retaining wall that lie beneath the current rim viewpoint.

That will require the services of a geotechnical expert, Campbell said, noting: “It’s a straight fall down to Highway 14.”

Last Tuesday, as the crew methodically removed barn roof trusses and piled lumber, the stunning view up the gorge from the rim was softened by a summer haze. Soon, that view will be accessible to all.

“I applaud Friends for taking this on,” Campbell said. “It will be a real public asset.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

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