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Lost in the fire? Family fears memorial bench burned at Angel's Rest

Photo from family members of the memorial bench at Angel's Rest

PORTLAND, Ore. – The story behind a bench near the top of a popular Columbia Gorge hike is personal for one family, but now they fear it may have burned in the Eagle Creek Fire.

Jeff Hendricks lives in the Pacific Northwest because of the Columbia River Gorge; he describes it as one of the most incredible places in the world. But it was his late wife that got them to move back after spending several years in California. She loved the Gorge.

“I live here because of the Gorge, my late wife actually encouraged me to move home, she wanted to live here,” said Hendricks. “We'd come up here every summer for a windsurfing vacation.”

Late in 1999, his late wife, Susan Lorraine Hendricks, died about 10 days after giving birth to their son, Jordan. About six months later, Hendricks took it upon himself to work with the Columbia River Gorge commission to design and build a memorial bench in her honor. There was no better place to put it than at the top of Angel's Rest.

“We used to do ‘downwinders’ from Dalton’s Point to Rooster Rock. So you could look off the bench and the memories of our ‘downwinders’ and all the times we'd be stranded on the side of the freeway walking back because the wind died, I continue to remember this,” said Hendricks.

“It took us a whole day to get there, we built the trail,” said Hendricks. “Then we built the foundation for the design I had worked on.”

On Father’s Day in the year 2000, with two dozen friends and family, they hiked the supplies and tools to the location at Angel's Rest and finished building the bench. It has been there ever since.

“It's part of Angel's Rest now,” he said. “People just say, ‘Have you been to the bench?’”

Over the past 19 years, he estimates he’s been back about 75 times with his son Jordan and daughter Lainie. They often bring flowers, but always make sure to sit at the bench.

The western edge of the Eagle Creek Fire spread past Angel's Rest since it was started by someone lighting fireworks on Saturday afternoon. Hendricks fears that the bench is gone.

“I think the bench is likely gone, but there is so much more loss. I can rebuild the bench, and we will. The memories are still in our hearts,” Hendricks said.

It is a big loss for Hendricks and his family, but he realizes that it is just a small part of the Gorge. “There are so many greater losses,” he said.

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