This is part two of the Hood River News’ look back at the history of the Hood River waterfront. This article was compiled by staff writer Esther Smith, updating a 1998 report by Paige Rouse.
The Port of Hood River created the waterfront in the 1960s and 1970s with the idea of developing it to bring jobs and economic diversity to the area. Things went according to plan — the industrial park was filling up and work progressed in Marina Park — until the late 1970s when the port was denied the right to complete the fill project’s final phase. Then in the 1980s the wind blew in a whole new industry for Hood River.
But in the early 1970s things were moving right along, especially in the Marina Park area.
This was the area the port envisioned as the recreational center, with a planned swim beach, park and improved marina. Improvements began with the marina’s first permanent moorage floats, installed in 1972. The next year the port office building was erected and later became the home of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Oregon State Police. Land was also donated by the port to become the Hood River County Museum. A visitor dock was installed in the marina and eventually a swim beach, complete with restrooms, was added.
In the late 1970s the port ran into problems in its efforts to finish the fill it started in 10 acres of the West Cove area of Waterfront Industrial Park, in the area now known as the Hook. The original plan included development of this area into a transportation center with access from the western side of the city. Hopes were to bring barge, rail and highway facilities to one central point, resulting in substantial economic benefits, both in freight cost savings and energy in the movement of bulk cargoes. However, litigation over the fill effort ended when the Oregon Supreme Court denied the Port’s request to fill the submerged portion. The court found that fish rested in the area on their way downstream, and that Columbia River fishery could be diminished by filling this submerged area within the cove.
By 1982 windsurfers had discovered Hood River and the waterfront quickly became a hot spot for enthusiasts of the sport. Every summer the number of sails out on the river seemed to double. Marina Park became known as the Columbia Gorge Sailpark, where major boardsailing events were scheduled. A number of windsurfing concessions were soon added to encourage industry growth of the sport.
Recognizing the need for a long range plan, the port signed a contract in 1982 with Portland planners Benkendorf & Associates, who had worked with the Port of Portland to plan portions of Portland’s downtown waterfront. These planners stressed the importance of getting community input regarding waterfront development which would be incorporated into the comprehensive plan. By the end of the year they had come up with Waterfront Plan Phase I.
There were already conflicting views on what should go on the waterfront. The Hood River Valley Residents Committee presented a position paper during that time to the port commission which offered alternatives to the port’s industrial/manufacturing focus and suggested a different outlook for the future economic direction of the county.
The Residents Committee felt that Hood River had something special to offer that could provide a real economic advantage — its spectacular scenic beauty, its recreation potential and its quality of life.
In 1983 the Port of Hood River purchased Wells Island with the intention of expanding recreational facilities in that area, but due to environmental interests the island was sold to the Trust for Public Lands in 1991, and later to the U.S. Forest Service.
In the late 1980s, in order to relieve overcrowding and better accommodate a mix of uses at the marina, the Port of Hood River undertook the construction of the Event Site on the western side of the Hood River. It was intended to be both a recreational and a world-class watersport competition site.
Other improvements made during that time included a pedestrian bridge across the Hood River to link Marina Park with downtown and an expanded commercial boat dock near the event site to enable cruise boats to dock; eventually including the Sternwheeler.
In 1993 the port transformed the former Clark Door building into the Hood River Expo Center in order to help encourage year-round tourism. It underwent major renovation at a cost of $1.3 million, $900,000 of which came from a HUD grant. By 1993 national trade shows were booking at the Expo Center.
By the end of that year the port had entered into the next waterfront era, a decade of discussion and debate about the future of the waterfront. It began with hearings about zone changes and developed into a complex issue that has yet to be resolved.