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WE GIVE TO … fi nish what she started


why we give the achtermans, salem, oregon


“Gail was brilliant, fearless, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ from anybody.”


Siblings Chris and Gail Achterman in 2010.


Elowa Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon


Conservationist, environmental lawyer, transportation expert, scholar, athlete, outdoorswoman … Gail Achterman was many things, but her family and friends tend to describe her the same way: a force of nature.


In a career spanning four decades, Achterman was the driving force be- hind some of Oregon’s bedrock envi- ronmental laws—including the bill that established the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.


“Gail was brilliant, fearless, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ from anybody,” says her brother, Chris Achterman. “She had a unique ability to walk into a room of people who were not prepared to agree with each other on anything—highway contractors on one side of the table, salmon habitat folks on the other—and


26 · LAND&PEOPLE · SPRING/SUMMER 2017


walk out with a deal.


“She never set out intent on destroy- ing the opposition or getting exactly what she wanted—for her, it was about arriving at the best possible solution for everyone.”


Achterman was working to preserve the Willamette Valley’s forests and rivers when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 62.


But before she died, Achterman gathered her family and friends to her bedside and gave them some very specifi c instructions. “She told us what her goals were for the future of the Wil- lamette Valley. Then she deputized each of us to carry on a piece of that work.” Chris laughs remembering the scene. “It was so Gail!”


Their marching orders received, Achterman’s loved ones began by team- ing up with The Trust for Public Land. Together, they drummed up the funds needed to purchase a 290-acre island in the Willamette River, just a few miles upstream of Gail’s childhood home in Salem. Now cared for by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the new Gail Achterman Wildlife Area will someday serve as a boat-in park and campground.


Chris knows his sister would have loved to kayak along the forested banks that now bear her name. It’s a fi tting place to honor her memory, he says: an island shaped by the rise and fall of the river, still wild thanks to the forces of nature—Gail included.


michael matti


courtesy chris achterman


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