A lumber company could make a profit from the first year if it developed a recreational vehicle campground instead of the upscale 245-unit destination resort it has proposed on a scenic portion of the Columbia River Gorge, an economic study commissioned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge concludes.
The study by the Eugene, Ore.-based economic consultant ECONorthwest found that the 60-acre Broughton mill site near Underwood Wash., could be profitably redeveloped under existing Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area rules, according to The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. Such a resort would fill a need for more camping sites in the gorge, said economist Ted L. Helvoigt, who did the study.
The property, zoned for commercial recreation, is just across state Highway 14 from the popular Spring Creek Hatchery windsurfing beach, about 60 miles east of Portland, Ore.
“The destination resort proposal that was proposed by Broughton (Lumber Co.) has no place within the national scenic area, particularly adjacent to a state park along the Columbia River,” said Michael Lang, Friends conservation director. “This report proves that a smaller RV campground and resort, which is currently allowed under the rules, is not only economically feasible but is a better match for the recreation needs of the Columbia River Gorge. It would be more affordable for a broader range of visitors.”
Jason Spadaro, Broughton’s general manager, said his company studied but rejected the option of developing the site under existing scenic area rules. Those rules allow development of 175 RV or tent sites, 35 cabins averaging 1,000 square feet, and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We don’t feel that the gorge is right for that,” he said. “It is not a desirable product, nor is it an economically viable product.”
Spadaro has insisted that Broughton can’t profitably build and operate a resort much smaller than the 245-unit recreational complex it has proposed for the site.
A resort that size would require an amendment to the scenic area management plan. The Columbia River Gorge Commission has held numerous public hearings to get direction on whether a plan amendment is needed and, if so, how it should be written.
A final recommendation from the executive director of the gorge commission was due Nov. 30 but has been postponed indefinitely.
The ECONorthwest study found that there are 468 private RV camping spots and 222 private tent sites in the gorge and that RV spots rent for an average of $23 per night. It found that average occupancy rates in private RV parks varied by season, from 18% in December and January to 92% in June, July and August.