Last June, a beloved swimming hole on the Washougal River was permanently closed to the public by the timber company that owned the land—it wasn't a new policy, but the parking enforcement was. Anybody whose car was caught near Naked Falls got a $200 ticket. With logging done, Weyerhaeuser just didn't want the liability.
But hero Vancouverite Steven Epling just couldn't abide that.
"It represents the child in me that comes alive every time I get back there," says Epling, who grew up visiting the falls.
The 37-year-old credit union manager sold his three rental properties and took out a small loan. Figuring Weyerhaeuser had no interest in the land now that it was finished logging, he put up an offer in March on the 131 acres around the falls.
It had long been a goal of Epling's to own waterfront property, and while he says he wasn't willing to sacrifice everything for that goal, he was willing to do a lot. "I sold most of my assets," says Epling. "It pushed me pretty close to my limit."
Epling doesn't have previous experience with natural area management, and says there's been a lot of learning along the way, but he hopes to one day add campgrounds.
"This is phenomenally better than anything I imagined," he says. "I feel a tremendous responsibility."
Epling says he recognizes the possibility of liability at a waterfall known for cliff-jumping, but he's hoping for the best. "Maybe it's naive, but I believe it's more dangerous when no one is allowed to be there," says Epling. "People are getting it back. Are they really going to risk losing it again?"