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Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, center, and Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River announce drawing winners, assisted by Brittany Berge of Port of Cascade Locks.

A festive air surrounded legislators, staff and Gorge residents concerned with Salem business at last week’s annual social event, “Gorge Us Night in Salem.”

The Gorge-wide advocacy group One Gorge hosted the eighth-annual event. One Gorge is an informally organized group of professionals from various public agencies, organizations, and private businesses in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area that works on issues and priorities of the Gorge region in the state and federal legislatures. One Gorge held a similar event earlier in February in the Washington capital, Olympia.

Beer, wine and cider flowed courtesy of purveyors in Hood River, Cascade Locks and The Dalles to go with a catered buffet at Willamette Heritage Center’s Spinning Room in the historic Mission Mill complex.

Present were groups promoting private and public projects that seek long-range funding support from the legislature. These included City of Mosier’s community center, presented by Mayor Arlene Burns; a draft proposal for a history museum complex in Cascade Locks, presented by Mayor Tom Cramblett; and the non-profit Performing Arts Initiative, seeking to build an arts complex in Hood River. Also present were local businesses including Renewal Workshop of Cascade Locks and agencies including Columbia Area Transit.

“Transportation is a huge issue, how to get people in and out of the Gorge effectively and efficiently,” said Mark Johnson of Hood River, government affairs director for Cascade Locks.

Some elected officials joined the party later than others, as committee work for Rep. Anna Williams (D-Hood River) and Sen. Lyle Findley (R-Vale) stretched into the evening. But they arrived in time to share in the task of drawing names for donated prizes, ranging from backpacks to bottles of wine to tickets to events with Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and Rep. Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles).

Findley, one of the House’s newest members of the Senate, said, “It’s a great honor to serve a district that makes up 36 percent of the state, and I’m honored to representing Wasco County, some say the best part of the Gorge.” Findley, a retired firefighter and former Vale city manager, said he lived in The Dalles and Umatilla growing up, but spent most of his life in Vale.

Formerly the Dist. 60 representative, Findley was appointed in December to succeed Cliff Bentz, who resigned to run for governor.

One Gorge teams up businesses, non-profits and government agencies to help advocate in communities, and in Salem, over topics including transportation, land use, and economic development.

“A big one is public safety,” Johnson said. “We love to have people come visit but sometimes it takes a lot of resources to make sure people are safe, and we need sustainable funding for our local Sheriff’s departments and police departments to help them people stay safe.

“We’re also concerned with, ‘How can we create more housing and business opportunities?’ That’s what One Gorge is all about,” Johnson said.

Also on hand were representatives of Columbia River Gorge Commission and the Port of Hood River bridge replacement project.

“Gorge Us” has grown from a dozen or so people gathering in the Oregon Association of Counties’ hospitality room, a 10th the size of the Spinning Room, to 100-plus people attending in the past two years, noted Johnson, who, with Thomsen helped start the event. Johnson had served as state representative Hood River County.

“We’ve grown, and it’s indicative of how the presence of the Gorge’s stature in Salem has been elevated over the years,” Johnson said.

He pointed to the $2.5 million economic development package approved two years ago that are being used in Cascade Locks in the form of an expanding Renewal Workshop and the construction of Hood River-based pFriem Family Brewing’s new facility, both in Cascade Locks.

”When the legislature invests in the Gorge, good things happen,” said Johnson. “Thank you for your generosity and we hope we can continue that relationship,” he said.

Thomsen added, “I want to thank the legislators who have supported dollars throughout the years, and I’m sure there will be more coming.”

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