Many are familiar with the Vancouver Lake lowlands and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Clark County, Washington, together a mirror image of the Sauvie Island complex on the Oregon side of the border. Clark County, along with federal, state and non-profit organizations, has assembled key pieces of the lowlands over a 30-year period as a conservation legacy for future generations. Vancouver Lake and Ridgefield are two of the best known natural areas in the county, but there are many others to discover.
Clark County’s Legacy Lands Program, managed by the Environmental Services Department, was instituted in October 1985, when the Board of County Commissioners adopted a small property tax levy of 6.25 cents per $1,000 of valuation to protect open space from threats such as urban development and habitat degradation. Protected greenspaces provide a vital green infrastructure that connects our community, protects our water and air, preserves corridors for wildlife, and provides recreational opportunities.
To celebrate 30 years of success, we hope to introduce you to three less familiar gems in our system. Directions to and information about sites highlighted below, and other engaging natural sites, can be found at www.clark.wa.gov/legacylands. We are also programming a series of special events throughout 2015 to pique your interest in our unique contributions to The Intertwine.
La Center Bottoms and the Lower East Fork Lewis Greenway
The free-flowing East Fork of the Lewis River is home to native runs of Chinook, Coho and Chum salmon, and winter and summer steelhead. The lower floodplain offers hundreds of acres of bottomland habitat for waterfowl and other species. Clark County and its partners have assembled more than 2,000 acres of land from the confluence of the East Fork and North Fork Lewis Rivers to Lewisville Park near Battle Ground. While much of this land is protected for its habitat value and has limited public access, La Center Bottoms offers a window into this bottomland system.
From the trailhead on 3rd St. in La Center, follow the handicap-accessible path to a small bridge across a burbling brook in an oak stand. Past the bridge, the path turns to gravel. Soon you will arrive at a waterfowl viewing blind where you may see migrating tundra swans feeding on camas bulbs in the wetland ponds. Migrating salmon smolts also use the ponds for refuge and forage. From the large bridge across Brezee Creek, there is an expansive view of the bottomland landscape. As you look upstream, know that most of the bottomlands on the south side of the river are protected. Continuing over the bridge, the trail narrows and follows the levee, providing more intimate views of the river.
For an on-water experience, the City of La Center has constructed a small canoe/kayak launch just under the La Center Road Bridge downstream of the trailhead. This reach of the river is tidally influenced. Time it right, and ease your upstream paddle on the incoming tide. Then drift downstream with the current back to the put-in, or, for the adventurous, all the way to the Columbia River, ducking into Lake River to a take-out at the Port of Ridgefield.
Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area
For an upland experience, explore the 81-acre Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area in the southwest corner of Battle Ground. Ancient cedar stumps, harvested in the early 1900s, nurse a new generation of life. A mature mixed-conifer forest has grown up around them, offering a variety of experiences. You might hear the drumming of a pileated woodpecker echo through the forest. You might stumble across a rough-skinned newt crossing one of the soft surface trails. Trilliums brighten the forest floor in spring. From an overlook, you can view the confluence of Salmon Creek and its tributary, Morgan Creek. Western pearlshell mussels can be found in Morgan Creek, and Coho salmon smolts rear under the cooling forest canopy well into summer.
Lower Washougal Greenway
The Lewis and Washougal River systems are the two primary systems we expect to contribute to the recovery of salmon and steelhead populations in Clark County. The City of Camas, Clark County and other partners have managed to assemble an 100-acre greenway along the Lower Washougal River. The City recently completed a 1.5 mile-long handicap-accessible trail from which you can get a first-hand view of the river.
From downtown Camas, travel east and turn right onto NE 3rd Loop, just past Lacamas Creek, to the trailhead. A short downhill switchback will take you to a boardwalk that lightens the impact of foot traffic through the floodplain. During the spring freshet you might get wet feet. Ascending out of the floodplain, a bridge leads you from the north bank to the south bank of the river. Spectacular views up and down the river await from the top of the bridge. February through May you might see salmon and steelhead spawning in the gravels below. The trail continues through a reclaimed gravel mine that is now a series of ponds connected with the river and enhanced with large wood to improve fish habitat. Shortly past the gravel mine, the eastern trailhead awaits off of NE Yale St.
For a longer outing, check out the trailhead for Lacamas Lake Regional Park and its 9.5 mile trail system, one block west of 3rd Loop on 3rd St.