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Barbara and Chris Nelson Lead with Passion and Generosity

December 21, 2023
Barbara and Chris 1
Barbara and Chris Nelson enjoying a day biking in the Gorge. Photo courtesy of Barbara Nelson.

Barbara and Chris Nelson are Gorge residents devoted to the cause of protecting land for future generations through land acquisition and advocacy. When asked about how they each came to share this perspective, Barbara clearly remembers her first “Wow!” experience in the Gorge on her journey to becoming a devoted conservationist.

Soon after moving to Portland in the early 2000s, Barbara was in the Gorge to run a trail half marathon and describes the day and scene as picture-perfect. As she ran down the hill near Syncline, the Columbia glistened, snow-capped Mt. Hood stood tall in the distance and the sky shone a brilliant blue. That’s when she decided she wanted to live in the Gorge someday. She and Chris love mountain biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing together in the Gorge.

Chris had a similar “ooh-ahh!” moment when he and Barbara were dating and he flew into Portland to meet Barbara who at the time was living in San Francisco and visiting on business. As they were driving east on I-84 to start their weekend adventures, he saw the Gorge unfolding before him in the cliffs, waterfalls, and river. He said it was like seeing Yosemite for the first time as a kid—he was filled with wonder. They agree that none of these moments would have been possible without the active support of Gorge lovers before them who protected the Gorge from development.

Getting involved with Friends was easy for Barbara. Having worked in commercial real estate for most of her career, she understood the complexities of acquiring land for development. Her innate desire to keep places like the Gorge beautiful and protected for people to enjoy and for nature to flourish sparked her realization that she was destined to help.

Barbara was introduced to Kevin Gorman, Friends’ executive director, by someone who listened to her interest in not just protecting land but protecting the Gorge. It is not a surprise that that person was also a former Friends’ Executive Director, Bowen Blair. Once Barbara became a trustee for Friends’ Land Trust, it all came together for her: “Nothing is more exciting than going on to a land trust property that has been preserved in perpetuity and knowing that I have been a part of it,” she said. “I can’t describe the feeling.”

“To me, conservation means that land is open for all to enjoy without letting it be overused.

Barbara Nelson

When the Heartleaf Bluffs property became available as part of the Share the Wonder campaign, Barbara and Chris helped facilitate the acquisition of the property on behalf of Friends in very short order to stop it from being purchased for development, but they also chose to support the efforts of the Share the Wonder with a very generous gift. Barbara sums it all up very succinctly: “To me, conservation means that land is open for all to enjoy without letting it be overused. An amazing property like Heartleaf Bluffs should be both protected and shared.”

When asking a land trustee what part of Friends’ work is most important to her, it would not be surprising to hear land stewardship and conservation, but Barbara also believes strongly in Friends’ advocacy work. She believes that “The Gorge would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Friends’ efforts to stop inappropriate development, protect habitat, and foster climate resilience.”

Chris shares this sentiment and agrees that Friends has the distinctive role of being an advocate for Gorge protection as well as allowing everyone to enjoy its wonder: “Striking a balance is something that Friends does extremely well.”

Barbara sees the future of the Gorge embedded in acquiring strategic properties to keep them from being developed so that they will provide carbon sequestration opportunities, create open spaces for all, and protect biodiversity.

Thank you, Barbara and Chris, for making it happen!

To reach our $6.6 million goal for Share the Wonder, we’ll need the support of the entire Friends community. Our success requires action from each of us. By sharing the wonder with a gift today, you can help Friends make an even bigger impact on the lands, wildlife, plants, and communities of the Gorge.