When the weather gets bad, the clouds come down, there is ice in them, but we still need to get past the Cascades, our options are limited. There are the routes through Snoqualmie Pass, Stampede Pass, and Stevens Pass, but really the main thoroughfare is The Gorge. Almost sea level, straight east/west from Portland to Walla Walla and Pendleton, and easy to find, it gives VFR flyers without anti-ice a reasonable chance to travel on otherwise marginal days.
Along the route there are airports and strips that provide safety opportunities if the weather deteriorates to a point where further onward travel is not possible: Wasco State, Goldendale, The Dalles, Hood River, and on the western end, Cascade Locks. It has been this way for decades and these safety valves have saved many a trapped aviator. Recently, though, there is a possible threat to the continued use of one of these strips.
Citizens of Cascade Locks are investigating possibilities of commercial development. Bounded by high terrain on one side and the Columbia on the other, developable land is scarce. As in many other communities the open space of an airport is low hanging fruit. The question arises: ‘With so few operations on such a small strip, why not use that land for commercial or residential improvements to the tax base of the community?’ It seems like a reasonable question. The problem is that the dollars and cents analysis doesn’t take into account the access, safety, or training uses of the airfield. Such uses are hard to quantify and don’t show up on financial spreadsheets. And once an airfield is gone, it is gone forever. We are long past the time where we’re putting new runways in.
The town of Cascade Locks had engaged a consulting firm to guide all interested parties through the decision process. At two meetings so far the overwhelming feeling among those attending is that the use of the field be maintained. This is encouraging and talks continue, but what can we as aviators do? Fly in. A demonstrated use of the field is the best way to show all concerned that the airport has value. Better still, take some time, park, and spend some money. The pie and burgers available in town are worth the trip. The scenery of the Gorge from ground level is breathtaking. There is easy access to the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a destination worth investigating.
A couple of cautions: The winds in the Gorge can be extreme and unpredictable. The runway is 1800 feet by 30 feet so you have to be on your short field game. It is a mile into town so good footwear or a fold-bike is essential. But if you fly into Cascade Locks on a nice day and become familiar with it, it may be a more welcoming spot when the weather turns bad and it is the only option. Consider giving it a try.