Where the Sidewalk Ends...Will Soon Be Ridgefield NWR!

Getting to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge without a car is about to become a whole lot safer than this scenario.

Getting to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge without a car is about to become a whole lot safer than this scenario.

The following 2020 Blog post was authored by Eric Anderson, Deputy Project Leader for the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

DETOUR.

Depending on your frame of mind, this word might mean “big inconvenience.” Or if you’re the glass-half-full type, it might mean an opportunity to experience something new. Allow me to suggest a third perspective: A sign of great things to come.

For those who have already started seeing orange signs and a strange new gravel pad next to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, you’re probably more than a little curious. What you’re seeing are the early stages of the Main Avenue Project, expected to be completed by the first week of October 2019. While this means you’ll be experiencing a different route to the Refuge for a few weeks, the good news is the Refuge hours and trails are not affected by this project. The even better news is this project will have big benefits for wildlife, Refuge visitors, and the City of Ridgefield!

The detour route options to the Carty Unit.

The detour route options to the Carty Unit.

Close, but Not Close Enough

For many of us, getting to the Refuge’s Carty Unit, Plankhouse, or Oaks-to-Wetlands Trail requires a trip down Ridgefield’s Main Avenue. This is largely true whether you’re traveling from afar or live in the City of Ridgefield.

While driving to the Refuge makes perfect sense out of town visitors, it seems unnecessary for local residents. After all, there are few National Wildlife Refuges in the country that boast the kind of close proximity to the heart of its neighboring community as does Ridgefield NWR. But if you’re a local, one thing you’re painfully aware of is that there has never been a safe pedestrian route to the Refuge.

Those bold enough to attempt a walk to the Refuge must share the rolling and curvy roadway with vehicles traveling at speeds up to 50 MPH. With a ditch along much of the roadside, there are limited options to avoid oncoming vehicles. The unfortunate result is that only a few brave locals ever enjoy a car-free visit to what is otherwise a very convenient place to enjoy nearby nature. There’s even a financial impact, as field trips from local schools require busing students at great expense, even though they’re a mere one mile from the Refuge.

The Missing Link

One big piece of the Main Avenue Project is to extend sidewalks from the City of Ridgefield to the Refuge’s Carty Unit. As a result, non-motorized visitors - be you walkers or rollers - will finally have safe access from downtown all the way to the Refuge. And while public uses will not change, we will install bike racks near the entrance so you can securely leave your bikes and scooters at Refuge trailheads.

And that’s not all! With the completion of this project and the recent completion of the Carty Lake Trail, a 5-mile seasonal loop will soon exist that connects the City, the Port of Ridgefield, and the Refuge’s entire Carty Unit trail system. You’ll be able to see it all without getting behind the wheel of a car.


Gee Creek and Main Avenue don’t exactly play nice during big rain events.

Gee Creek and Main Avenue don’t exactly play nice during big rain events.

More Flow, Less Flood

The Main Avenue Project will also address water flow concerns associated with Gee Creek, the body of water that passes underneath the roadway. The current Gee Creek culvert at Main Avenue is too small to handle peak flows during severe weather events. A 10-foot culvert, like the Gee Creek culvert, is intended to pass water at a rate less than 645 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs), less when clogged with debris and sediment from the Creek. Flows in Gee Creek - after heavy, prolonged rains - have reached 700 cfs. During one such event, water backed up at the Gee Creek culvert and eventually overtopped Main Avenue (image above). These events create hazardous conditions for motorists.

Additionally, when water overtops Main Avenue, the roadway functions as a dam, impounding a 20-foot column of water. The impounded water significantly floods private property to the east of Main Avenue, while also threatening utilities and compromising the integrity of the road.

To combat this problem, the Main Avenue Project will replace the 10-foot Gee Creek culvert with a 40-foot arch culvert rated for a 100 year flood event. The new culvert will rectify this hydrological pinch-point and address long-term hydrological function in a rapidly developing watershed.

This curious gravel pad at the Carty Unit entrance is a staging area for the Main Avenue Project crew. They’ll be able to store their equipment without using what is already limited Refuge parking space. BONUS FACT: The gravel pad was created with a membrane underneath, meaning the gravel can be completely removed at the end of the project and vegetation easily replanted in that area.

This curious gravel pad at the Carty Unit entrance is a staging area for the Main Avenue Project crew. They’ll be able to store their equipment without using what is already limited Refuge parking space. BONUS FACT: The gravel pad was created with a membrane underneath, meaning the gravel can be completely removed at the end of the project and vegetation easily replanted in that area.