Refuge 20/20

The future of Portland’s National Wildlife Refuges, coming into focus. 


What is Refuge 20/20

Northern harrier.  Photo ©Adam Stunkel.

Northern harrier. Photo ©Adam Stunkel.

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.

Refuge2020Graphic.png 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.

Visit The Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge →

Visit The Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards →


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.

The Auto Tour Route can be accessed on Saturdays and Sundays during bridge construction.  Photo ©Linda Severson

The Auto Tour Route can be accessed on Saturdays and Sundays during bridge construction. Photo ©Linda Severson

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.

Latest Update

SPECIAL FEATURE: “The Wild Side of Bridge Construction” June 6, 2019

“Superstructures and Substructures” June 5, 2019

See all River S Bridge Replacement Updates

Key Dates

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.

Visitor Impact

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 and the Ridgefield NWR website for specific closure dates and other project updates.

Habitat Improvement at Ridgefield NWR

Oak Release

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.

Latest Update

“A Walk in the Woods” - The 20/20 Blog 4/23/19

“Oaks See the Light on Ridgefield’s Carty Unit” - The 20/20 Blog 4/18/19

See all Oak Release Updates

Key Dates

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.

visitor Impact

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 and the Ridgefield NWR website for specific closure dates and other project updates.


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.

The Refuge’s pedestrian bridge will soon be part of a loop connecting downtown Ridgfield to the Refuge and the Port, all without need of a car.

The Refuge’s pedestrian bridge will soon be part of a loop connecting downtown Ridgfield to the Refuge and the Port, all without need of a car.

ridgefield nwr main street extension

If you’ve ever tried to make your way to Ridgefield NWR’s Carty Unit as a pedestrian from downtown Ridgefield, then you’ve come to where the sidewalk ends. By the end of 2019, that will no longer be the case. Work began in March 2019 on Main Street at the intersection with Gee Creek. Here, the road will be raised and a new, larger overpass across the creek will be installed. As part of the project, the sidewalk on the Refuge side of Main Street will be extended all the way to the Carty Unit entrance. Form mid-June through early July, there will be frequent traffic disruption on Main Avenue between downtown Sherwood and Refuge Headquarters, with flaggers present to ensure safe passage. From July 7th until the first weekend in October (Birdfest and Bluegrass weekend), Main Avenue will be completely closed at Gee Creek and traffic will be detoured to accommodate major construction activities. Check back for alternate routes to the Refuge in July.

Tundra swans are a frequent site on Carty Lake.  Photo ©Linda Severson

Tundra swans are a frequent site on Carty Lake. Photo ©Linda Severson

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.

You’ll be seeing the Refuge in a whole new way along the Gibbons Creek Art Trails once the Columbia River Reconnection project is complete.

You’ll be seeing the Refuge in a whole new way along the Gibbons Creek Art Trails once the Columbia River Reconnection project is complete.

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


Ridgefield NWR

Official Refuge Website

Supporting Partner

Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

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

Supporting Partner

Gorge Refuge Stewards

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.