What is Refuge 20/20
The future of Urban National Wildlife Refuges in the Portland-Vancouver Metro Area
National Wildlife Refuges have been part of the fabric of the greater Portland-Vancouver Metro Area for over 50 years. They have served the community well by providing people of all ages and abilities safe places to explore nature and see wildlife in their natural habitats. As we soon enter the third decade of the 21st Century, these special places are getting even better.
Refuge2020.info is a collaborative effort of The Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Its purpose is to keep you informed about the many wildlife habitat and public access improvements that will be completed or well underway by the year 2020. The name is also an acknowledgement that these projects are bringing clarity to the vision of how National Wildlife Refuges will serve the Portland-Vancouver community well into the future.
Short term disruptions.
Long term benefits.
Significant wildlife habitat and public access improvements will be taking place at Ridgefield and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuges in the coming years. While some of these projects will cause temporary disruptions to portions of these refuges, the long-term experience will be worth the wait.
Scroll on to learn more about upcoming projects.
public access improvement at ridgefield nwr
River S Bridge Replacement
Beginning March 18, 2019, construction will begin to replace the existing single-lane bridge that provides access over Lake River to the Auto Tour Route and the Kiwa Trail at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s River S Unit. The new bridge will be two lanes wide and will cross over both the railroad tracks and the river.
March 18, 2019: Access to the Auto Tour Route changes to weekends only (Saturday and Sunday). There will be no public access to the River S Unit Monday through Friday.
Why is this an important improvement?
This is a much-needed project to improve public safety and relieve congestion to the Refuge’s very popular Auto Tour Route. The existing one-lane bridge allows for only one vehicle at a time, which leads to confusion and traffic back-ups during peak times. A two-lane bridge will keep vehicles flowing more smoothly in both directions.
Currently, the road to the one-lane bridge from Hillhurst Road crosses heavily used railroad tracks. The new bridge will be constructed over the tracks, meaning fewer safety concerns and no getting stuck waiting for a long, slow-moving train.
Once the project is underway in March, access to the Auto Tour Route will be limited to weekends only. The reason for this is that the new bridge will be constructed next to the existing bridge and the construction crew will be performing their work from the existing bridge during the week.
Check back to Refuge2020.info and the Ridgefield NWR website for specific closure dates and other project updates.
Habitat Improvement at Ridgefield NWR
Beginning March 18, 2019, the Carty Unit at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will undergo a process known as an “oak release.” This involves removing faster growing conifer trees, mainly Douglas fir, in order to create more ideal growing conditions for Oregon white oak trees.
March 18, 2019 for up to three months: The Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail will close north of the Oak Overlook (the end of the paved portion of the trail) for approximately six weeks during tree cutting. The trail will remain closed for up to two additional months in order to ensure the site is safe from falling debris. Look for the trail to re-open north of the Oak Overlook in June or July.
Why improve conditions for oak trees?
The Oregon white oak was once a dominant species in Southwest Washington and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, providing high quality nesting and food resources for hundreds of bird, mammal, and insect species. These trees, however, are much slower growing than trees favored for timber production, like the Douglas fir. Since European arrival in the Pacific Northwest over 150 years ago, the Oregon white oak has lost over 97% of its historic habitat.
From One Restoration Project to Another
Douglas fir trees may be on the way out for this Refuge restoration project, but they’ll find new life helping improve the in-stream and riparian conditions of Abernathy Creek, located just west of Longview, Washington. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe has led efforts to restore salmon and steelhead habitat in Abernathy Creek since 2012. The Douglas firs from the oak restoration project on the Carty Unit will be used to finish out the Abernathy Headwaters project and will likely be used in the Sarah Creek and Erick Creek projects (both tributaries to Abernathy Creek).
The Refuge’s Douglas fir trees are ideal for this project because mature firs are hard to find for this purpose and large trees will last a lot longer in a stream environment. Also, their size will keep them more stable without the need for cables or boulder ballasts. Trees from the Refuge will also bring down project costs.
Starting March 18, 2019, the Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail will be closed north of the Oak Overlook (the interpretive log near the giant oak tree). Following tree removal, which will last for about six weeks, the trail will remain closed as Refuge staff monitor for falling debris. This monitoring period will last up to two months. The trail will re-open when it is deemed safe.
Once the trail re-opens, the visual experience will be quite different. The area will be filled with tree stumps and natural debris piles as Friends and Refuge staff and volunteers work to remove invasive species and plant a beneficial native vegetation understory.
Check back to Refuge2020.info and the Ridgefield NWR website for specific closure dates and other project updates.
Habitat Improvement at Tualatin River NWR
Chicken Creek Restoration
Beginning July 2019, a small tributary stream to the Tualatin River, known as Chicken Creek, will be restored to its natural, curving flow at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge’s Atfalat’i Unit. The project aims to restore natural stream and wetland floodplain functions, where the realigned Creek will feed a portion of the Atfalat’i Units once heavily managed wetland impoundments. Anticipated beaver activity in the restored Creek channel will cause water to pond, and in concert with the native vegetation planted by the Refuge, will result in 280 acres of wetlands and 2 miles of stream habitat supporting a healthy, diverse array of plants, fish and wildlife.
Mid-July, 2019 through September 2019: The project will begin with a delivery of large woody debris that will be used for habitat improvement in the Creek channel and its associated floodplain. This will require the Refuge to close a portion of the Wetlands Seasonal Trail (pictured below). That section of the trail will eventually be removed to connect the new 280-acre wetland site. A new section of trail will open in mid-July, providing access to a previously closed area of the Refuge while overall adding 1/2 mile of trail. This will be a permanent change to the Refuge trail system. Additional activities will include excavating the new creek alignment, filling ditches and the placement of the woody debris.
Fall 2019 through Winter 2020: Large scale plantings are slated to occur. Stay tuned for likely volunteer opportunities during this time.
May 2020 through September 2020: Beginning in spring 2020, work will start with the removal of water control structures and the installation of two new bridge crossings near the wayside and photo blind. Finally, late in the summer, flow from the current Chicken Creek ditch will be diverted into the new excavated Creek channel that was created during phase 1 and the ditch filled in.
Why return the creek to a curving flow?
Over 100 years ago, when this land was converted to agricultural use by Europeans, the portion of Chicken Creek that once meandered through the present day Refuge before it met the Tualatin River, was altered to become a straight channel, and reduced in length from 2 miles to 1/2 mile. While this allowed farmers to effectively manage the land for crops and dairy cows, it greatly reduced habitat for fish and wildlife.
When the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1992 the process of rehabilitating the landscape began. The land that is now referred to as the Atfalat’i Unit was divided into multiple wetland impoundments that, to date, have been intensely managed by water control structures and intricate water delivery canals in an attempt to mimic naturally functioning wetland systems. While this work has represented a positive first step for wildlife and people alike, Chicken Creek has remained in its unnatural straightened channel, as it did over a century ago, to the detriment of native aquatic species, floodplain wetlands, and Tualatin River water quality.
The faster flows in a straight and shortened ½ mile channel have limited rearing and resting opportunities for native aquatic organisms like cutthroat trout and western brook lamprey, compared to the slower flows of the meandering 2 mile natural creek system that once existed. Further, some of the water control infrastructure present barriers to habitat further upstream of the Refuge. Faster flows in a straight channel have also caused significant erosion of the current channel, preventing the creek from spilling onto its floodplain, while carrying copious amounts of sediment directly into the Tualatin River, creating water quality concerns associated with increased turbidity. By restoring the Creek’s natural curves for over 2 miles across the floodplain, and eliminating water management infrastructure, Chicken Creek will once again serve as the lifeblood of its floodplain. All the while greatly reducing the need for human intervention to sustain the thriving system.
partners in conservation
A project of this size requires the help of many beyond our Refuge staff, including wildlife. Refuge biologists and experts from our community partners anticipate some help from nature’s #1 engineers, the North American beaver. The restored riparian vegetation and meandering waters of Chicken Creek will entice beavers - who can’t resist the sound of flowing water - to become even more active in the area than they already are. Dam building will cause water to pond throughout the 280-acre site. As a result, wetland and riparian vegetation will thrive and a diverse array of fish and wildlife will benefit from more foraging, nesting, and protection opportunities.
From research, to know-how, to financial support, we also have many human partners to thank for this project becoming reality:
Starting July 2019, the Wetlands Seasonal Trail will be re-routed. A straight section of East-West trail between the Refuge Wayside and the North-South crossing trail will be closed during the project and eventually removed. A new, permanent section of the Wetlands Seasonal Trail will open at the same time, providing new views of the Refuge and an additional 1/2 mile of trail.
There may be additional temporary closures on the Wetlands Seasonal Trail when large equipment needs to move through the area.
Check back to Refuge2020.info and the Tualatin River NWR website for specific closure dates and other project updates.
Public Access Improvement at Ridgefield NWR
Main Avenue Project
In July 2019, road crews will begin a project to replace the 10-foot culvert (water passage tunnel) under Main Avenue where it intersects Gee Creek. The replacement will be a 40-foot arch culvert that will allow more water to flow under the roadway, especially important during major rain events.
The project will also greatly enhance visitor access to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s Carty Unit - home of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, Carty Lake Trail, and Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail. The sidewalks on Main Avenue from downtown Ridgefield will be extended all the way to the Carty Unit entrance as part of this project. For the first time, Refuge visitors will have the option to access the Refuge without a car or the dangerous option of walking along the narrow, unprotected shoulder of Main Avenue. Once completed, residents and visitors to Ridgefield can walk or roll a continuous loop through the City, Refuge, and Port or Ridgefield.
While public uses at the Carty Unit will not change (i.e. bikes will continue to be prohibited on Refuge trails), we will install bike racks at trailheads. You’ll be able to bike to the Refuge, then enjoy a relaxing stroll along the trails, taking in the diverse wildlife, dynamic habitats, and impressive cultural features.
July 8, 2019 through early October 2019: A detour to the Refuge’s Carty Unit will be in effect. The project is anticipated to be completed by the first week in October (subject to change).
solving the high water problem
The current 10-foot culvert at Main Street and Gee Creek is designed to pass water at a rate less than 645 cubic feet per second (cfs). And that’s assuming there’s nothing blocking the culvert, which is almost never the case. Woody debris and sediment from Gee Creek are a constant presence, lowering the flow rate and making passage of aquatic wildlife species much more difficult.
Water flow rates have been recorded as high as 700cfs at Gee Creek and Main Avenue during heavy, prolonged rain events. When this happens, the water backs up and eventually overtops Main Avenue. And because Main Avenue dips at Gee Creek, the roadway begins to act like a dam, holding up to a 20-foot column of water. By replacing the current culvert with a 40-foot arch culvert, the roadway will be raised and the flow rate capacity greatly increased. Aquatic species will also benefit from easier passage under the roadway.
Starting July 8, 2019, a detour to the Refuge’s Carty Unit will be in effect (see map above). Access to the Refuge is via 289th/291st St. Connect to these streets from Pioneer Street by going North along either N 45th Ave. or N Reimen Rd./NW 51st Ave.
The detour will be in effect throughout the project, which is scheduled to be completed by the first week in October, prior to the 20th Anniversary of Birdfest and Bluegrass. This is, however, beyond the control of the Refuge and subject to change.
There are no other visitor disruptions as a result of this project. Refuge hours and trail access are not impacted by this project.
Check back to Refuge2020.info and The 20/20 Blog for project updates.
Habitat Improvement at Steigerwald lake NWR
Columbia River Connection
Following years of design and preparation, 2019 will see the beginning of perhaps the largest restoration project to ever take place on the Lower Columbia River. The main objective is to reconnect Steigerwald Lake NWR to the natural ebb and flow of the Columbia River. Wildlife will see a tremendous benefit, especially salmon and Pacific lamprey. The project will restore 912 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat when it’s all said and done. Summer 2019 is the timeframe when visitors will begin to see temporary access disruptions to the Refuge.
“Temporary Trail Closure At Steigerwald Lake NWR” June 27, 2019
Summer 2019: The Refuge will begin invasive vegetation management activities around the area know as the “alluvial fan” (the area where Gibbons Creek ends on the Refuge and spreads sediment into the floodplain). Occasionally, the Refuge will need to close the parking area and a portion of the Gibbons Creek Art Trail during these vegetation management activities. Access to open areas of the Refuge is available from William Clark Park. See the map below for more information about where you can and can’t go during these temporary closures.
upcoming activities at the Alluvial fan
Preparing the Gibbons Creek alluvial fan site is an important part of the project that will happen prior to removing the Columbia River levee. Upcoming 2019 activities include:
Spraying to reduce the amount of reed canary grass
Discing (churning up the root mat) where the reed canary grass was sprayed
Placement of tree trunks and rood wads
Seed the area with a native plant mix
Plant native trees and shrubs
What problems will this project address?
The project is addressing two main issues, both of which are related to the levees in place on the Refuge’s West and South sides. Currently, the levee along the Columbia River prevents Gibbons Creek from naturally draining into the River, causing it to flood adjacent public and private lands and infrastructure.
The levee has also had a negative impact on aquatic wildlife. In particular, salmon and lamprey are denied access to 960 acres of important floodplain habitat.
Take a look at this project map from our parters at the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.
More Habitat Projects
More projects are on the way to improve habitat for the hundreds of bird, mammal, and aquatic species that call the refuges home. Get a preview of these projects below and be sure to check back as we continually expand the details around benefits and temporary visitor disruptions.
Ridgefield NWR Prescribed Fire
The intentional, controlled, and safe use of fire to manage the landscape we now call Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was a common practice until Europeans came to the region over 150 years ago. In September 2018, we successfully reintroduced fire as a management tool to a closed area of the River S Unit. During 2019’s prescribed fire window of August-October, we will look to expand the use of this effective tool to additional portions of the Refuge where it makes sense and will be safe for the public.
Steigerwald lake nwr Columbia River Connection
Following years of design and preparation, 2019 will see the beginning of perhaps the largest restoration project to ever take place on the Lower Columbia River. The main objective is to reconnect Steigerwald Lake NWR to the natural ebb and flow of the Columbia River. Wildlife will see a tremendous benefit, especially salmon and Pacific lamprey. The project will restore 912 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat when it’s all said and done. September 2019 is the timeframe when visitors will begin to see temporary access disruptions to the Refuge.
Steigerwald Lake NWR Tree planting
In preparation for the reconnection of Steigerwald Lake NWR to the Columbia River, the Refuge is coordinating the planting of several native plant and tree species throughout the spring and summer of 2019. It’s important to let the new vegetation get a foothold now. Once the Columbia River is eventually reconnected, the shape and depth of Steigerwald Lake will change significantly.
More Access Projects
It’s not just the wildlife that will see an upgrade to their National Wildlife Refuge experience in the coming years. Projects are planned, and in some cases underway, that will provide improvements to the ways you can access and experience Ridgefield and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuges. Get a preview below and be sure to check back regularly for expanded details.
Ridgefield nwr port entry to carty lake
Now that the Port of Ridgefield has seen a recovery from its days as a timber processing site, a vision is underway for a thriving hub of community activity. Even before that vision unfolds, we are preparing the Refuge for a new point of entry, one that will connect you from the Port, directly to Carty Lake. Improvement of this entry point includes interpretive kiosks, a lake overlook platform, and a small trail network outside the fee area, in case you just want to come in for a peek. From this point, you will also be able to walk a new trail that travels around Carty Lake and connects with the Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. The Carty Lake trail will open May 1, 2019, and will be a seasonal trail open annually between May 1st and September 30th.
steigerwald lake nwr parking and trail relocation
The Columbia River Reconnection project at Steigerwald Lake NWR also means a significant opportunity for a new visitor experience. The existing parking lot and trailhead will be relocated a little bit to the West of its current location, positioned behind the levee that will be in place to ensure water doesn’t encroach on the water treatment plant adjacent to the Refuge. This also means the long, straight beginning to the Gibbons Creek Trail will be moved to an elevated vantage point to ensure it stays above the new water line. You’ll get an expansive view of the Refuge like you’ve never had before. Reconnecting to the Columbia River means the dike trail along the river will be breached in a couple of locations. A new, meandering trail will be installed, including a couple of small footbridges over the connection points to the river. A project of this size will mean significant disruption to Refuge access. We anticipate a 6-week closure of the Refuge in September 2019, and a year-long closure of the Refuge starting in 2020.
Meet the Refuges
Official Refuge Website
Habitat and Access Improvement Projects
A Refuge for Wildlife and People
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1965 to provide wintering habitat for the dusky subspecies of the Canada goose. Today, the Refuge provides a window to the past, present, and future of nature and the human relationship to it. It preserves and enhances habitat for wildlife, while revealing and protecting the evidence of the people who once thrived on this landscape and maintain their cultural connection to this day.
Embedded within the fast-growing city of Ridgefield, WA, the Refuge is woven within the fabric of the community. Upcoming habitat and public access improvement projects are not only addressing today’s needs, but are anticipating the coming needs and impacts of a larger, urban community.
Steigerwald Lake NWR
Official refuge website
A Gorge-ous Place to Connect with Nature
Teeming with wildlife at the eastern edge of Camas and Washougal, Washington, this Refuge presents a fantastic opportunity to connect with nature along winding trails and view iconic wildlife along the mighty Columbia River. Over 200 of Clark County’s 300 bird species have been observed on this relatively small refuge.
Absent from the Refuge has been a direct connection to the Columbia River, as it once had. In the coming years, that connection will be in place once again, benefitting aquatic species like salmon and lamprey, while providing a more natural environment for migrating waterfowl and other bird and mammal species. This important project will also provide an opportunity to improve the visitor experience, creating new vantage points and chances to become immersed in the beauty of the Refuge.
Tualatin River NWR
Official Refuge Website
Habitat and Access Improvement Projects
A Wild Wonderland of Nearby Nature
Located on the outskirts of Portland, OR, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is one of only a handful of urban national wildlife refuges in the country. Situated within the floodplain of the Tualatin River, the Refuge comprises less than 1% of the 712 square mile watershed. Yet, due to it's richness and diversity of habitats, the Refuge supports some of the most abundant and varied wildlife in the watershed.
The Refuge is now home to nearly 200 species of birds, over 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants. The Refuge has also become a place where people can experience and learn about wildlife and the places they call home, whether through self-guided discovery or by participating in one of our many educational programs.