The first quarter-mile of the run consisted of a rapid called Pipeline, a lively piece of water that has been known to flip many a raft. But I knew about a trail to a friendly little beach just at the rapid’s end. Not wanting to lose the Vollums before I’d landed them, I suggested that Howard and Jean take the 15-minute walk around Pipeline. I gave them what I thought to be clear directions, but we spent a furtive hour waiting on the beach below wondering where they’d gone. We searched the trail, but they were nowhere to be found. I was sure that I’d figuratively, as well as literally, lost them. They finally showed up sweaty, red-faced, and exhausted: they’d missed the trail and bushwhacked over a boulder field alongside the river instead of along the gentle, but apparently hidden, trail.

“Nice job,” Danny said. “That was the hardest part of the trip.”

Then Jean took me aside and told me Howard was suffering an impending diabetic attack and needed sugar—a candy bar, cookies, anything sweet. Without it he would have to be rushed to a hospital. We managed to find the crumbling, wet remnants of a Snickers bar stuck to the bottom of a river bag. Howard accepted it graciously and, soon, gamely revived. We headed downstream.

During our picnic lunch on a sunny beach, Howard poked his finger down through several layers of wet sand and noted its thermodynamic characteristics. This was infinitely more interesting to him than global threats to biodiversity or even local threats to the Sandy. Through it all, however, he was sportingly gracious. Jean, for her part, had a great time and was genuinely sympathetic to our mission. In the end, we forged what would be a long and productive relationship with the Vollum family.

With their help and many others’ over the next four years, we successfully raised $130,000 and assembled almost 500 acres of critical private land in five parcels along six miles of the Sandy River Gorge. We convinced the federal Bureau of Land Management to protect a magnificent 400-acre stand of old-growth Douglas fir, and the State of Oregon to create the Sandy River Wild and Scenic River, which limited development on additional lands. And, now, through public-private partnerships and the leadership of a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and state and federal agencies, the entire 600,000-acre watershed enjoys protections—a river corridor 40 miles long from its source on Mount Hood’s glaciers to the Columbia River.

In the summers of 2007 and 2008, Portland General Electric removed the 1908 Marmot Dam and then the last barrier on the Little Sandy River, making the watershed one of the most intact, wild, and free anywhere to be found so close to a major metropolitan area. The Sandy River system also protects Portland’s famously delicious unfiltered drinking water, from the Bull Run watershed, an important tributary of the Sandy.

All in all, my day with the Vollums was not a bad start in traditional land preservation.