ENVS 400 – Senior Capstone

ENVS 400 is the culminating class for the environmental studies major at Lewis & Clark College. Spanning a full school year, this class is dedicated to the development and completion of our capstone projects. The capstone process involves fusing ideas and methods learned over the past four years with our own special areas of interest or “concentrations.” The first half of ENVS 400 focuses on developing the foundation and methodologies for our projects. The second half delves into the completion of our capstones, examination of the broader field of environmental studies, and applying what we’ve learned in the major to post-graduate life.

Senior capstone began by re-examining the topics explored in our concentrations and “capstone proposals” we completed in ENVS 330, the third of four core classes in the major. My concentration focused on waterfalls as focal points of geology and culture. Waterfalls have been a longtime passion of mine. Their dynamism, striking aesthetics, centrality as outdoor tourist destinations, cultural significance, and unique geology has captivated my interest for years. My capstone built off of my concentration to examine the significance of waterfalls in a broader, interdisciplinary sense. The broad “framing question” that kick started my research is – what is the allure of waterfalls? I chose to investigate the allure of waterfalls in the situated context of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. This area contains one of the highest concentrations of permanent waterfalls in the world, is a primary tourist destination for the state of Oregon, and is under an hour from the city of Portland. Within the gorge, my research focused on visitor experience at Multnomah and Latourell Falls, two of the regions most spectacular and well-known waterfalls. In this context, I asked more specifically, “What experiences to people seek at waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and to what extent are these experiences being fulfilled?”

I investigated these questions through extensive literary research and a combination of methodologies. This included conducting a survey at both Multnomah and Latourell Falls. I asked visitors where they were from, reasons for visitation, what expectations they had about the waterfalls, where they got these expectations, how their experience compared to their expectations, and what elements of the landscape they included in their photographs. Part of the survey was also quantitative, asking visitors to rate crowding, accessibility, and scenic beauty on a scale of 1-10 at each waterfall. Upon collecting 100 total responses (50 at each waterfall), I analyzed the quantitative data through excel and the qualitative data through voyant tools. I also examined the role of waterfalls in photographs through the concepts of the sublime and picturesque. These frameworks were also implemented to delve into how waterfalls are advertised to visitors.

Multnomah Falls
Latourell Falls












Throughout this process, I’ve made many posts documenting my the development of my capstone. Find them here. ENVS 400 culminates with a variety of outcomes. One can write a traditional thesis paper as their outcome or write a scholarly essay with an alternative outcome pertaining to their project. I chose to write an essay and produce a story map as my alternative outcome. My story map guides the viewer through the waterfall experience with particular focus on aspects of stasis and change at waterfalls on different time scales. See my final scholarly essay here. Another outcome of the class is a poster which we presented at Lewis & Clark’s festival of scholars.