On November 5, 1805, Captain William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, wrote in his journal about the expedition’s overnight encampment on the banks of the Columbia River in what is now Clark County, Washington. “I could not Sleep for the noise kept by the Swans, Geese, white & black brant, Ducks & c. on a opposit base, & Sand hill Crane, they were emensely numerous and their noise horrid.” Most sites visited by Lewis and Clark on their 8,000-mile journey have changed beyond recognition in the last 200 years. But many places of natural and historical significance are being preserved in Clark County, thanks to the dedication of its citizens, elected officials and a wide assortment of agencies from every level of government. In fact, between the local, state and federal government, almost 80,000 acres of natural areas are protected, or an admirable 20 percent of Clark County’s total land area.
A kayaker carves the calm water of Battleground Lake in Clark County.
In 1985, Clark County adopted a Conservation Future Open Space Program, which places a tax of 6-1/4 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value on all taxable properties in the County. (Conservation Futures levies are also used for land preservation purposes in eleven other counties in the State of Washington.) The revenues from this tax are dedicated exclusively to the acquisition of farms, forests, recreational land and other open space. To date, the $21.7 million raised directly by the tax has leveraged an additional $16.7 million in matching grants, allowing the County to expand parks, acquire important habitat areas and create greenways that often incorporate trails for hikers, equestrians and bicyclists.
The Conservation Futures Program is particularly helpful to protecting the habitat of threatened salmon species. For example, this program helped expand Moultan Falls Park and Lucia Falls Park along a rugged stretch of the East Fork of the Lewis River, an important aquatic sanctuary where salmon can be seen leaping seemingly impossible heights as they travel upstream to spawn.
The State of Washington’s Department of Natural Resources contributes 60,000 acres of open space in Clark County including Reed Island State Park in the middle of the Columbia River and Battle Ground Lake State Park, which surrounds a volcanic lake said to be a smaller version of Oregon’s Crater Lake. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also maintains another 3,067 acres in Clark County including critical wetlands in the Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake Wildlife Areas adjacent to the Columbia River.
A small portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest lies within Clark County. But the federal government’s most popular recreation site is the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, which features a reconstruction of Fort Vancouver, originally built by the Hudson Bay Company as a fur trading post in 1824. The Reserve links to Waterfront Park and Renaissance Trail, which connects several attractions on the Columbia Riverfront with downtown Vancouver.
US Fish and Wildlife adds another 6,243 acres to Clark County’s open space inventory. Ridgefield, the largest national wildlife refuge in Clark County, preserves 5,200 acres of farmland, wetlands and riparian habitat as well as many archeological sites from the Chinook civilization which thrived in this area for 2,000 years before falling victim to European diseases carried by those who followed in the wake of Lewis and Clark. Members of the Chinook tribe have worked with numerous governmental agencies, foundations and private organizations to build a traditional cedar-plank longhouse patterned after the ones described by Lewis & Clark in their expedition journals.
Ridgefield NWR attracts almost 200,000 birders and other tourists annually, thanks in part to, BirdFest & Bluegrass, an annual festival celebrating the return of thousands of ducks, geese, swans and cranes for the winter. Today, there are no known complaints about the “horrid noise” of these birds. Most visitors, feathered as well as human, are just grateful that farsighted people are preserving remnants of the landscape that Lewis and Clark experienced here 200 years ago.