Columbia Gorge fires are sparking opportunities for progress on the North Bank.

There are many organizations in the Columbia River Gorge looking out for the the health of its environment, the lives of its people and the prosperity of its businesses. After a monumental event like the recent Columbia Gorge fires that engulfed the Eagle Creek Wilderness area in Oregon and jumped the Columbia River to burns parts of Skamania County last fall, impacts will be felt far and wide for months and years to come. A silver lining is that some of those impacts may actually benefit Southwest Washington.

These fires are a pivotal moment for the Gorge, which tends to be overrun with day-use congestion on the Oregon side in the summer. But Gorge Towns to Trails, launched by Friends of the Columbia Gorge, is poised to move forward on a multi-year vision for trekking on the Washington side. Renee Tkach is the project manager for Gorge Towns to Trails, an effort to make 200 miles of connected trails in the Columbia River Gorge that bridge Gorge communities on both sides, which are between five and 15 miles apart. The project is nearly seven years in the making.

After the fire: Connecting towns with trails

Tkach describes Gorge Towns to Trails as a “European-style hiking system” connected by shuttles, and sprinkled with lodges and B&Bs. The vision is to transform the Columbia River Gorge from a congested day-use area into a destination for extended multi-day vacations that lead hikers into the communities of the Columbia River Gorge, where they can enjoy the many home grown products like fruit, wine, beer, textiles, fish and so forth, boosting local businesses.

Currently, Gorge Towns to Trails is primarily focused on the North Bank.

Tkach stressed the optimal position of Washougal as the gateway to the Gorge. There is an opportunity for a 34-mile trail connecting Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Horn, Beacon Rock State Park and the Pacific Crest Trail as well as the communities of Washougal, North Bonneville, Stevenson and Cascade Locks. Right now the group is working to connect the remaining 2.5 miles of trail corridor needed for the Washougal to Stevenson trail section, and they have partnered with Port of Camas-Washougal to develop a new, one-mile trail that will serve as the west entrance for Gorge Towns to Trails. In addition, there is a planned expansion and restoration of Steigerwald Refuge, while connecting it to new trail moving east.

Further north, there are plans to connect the urban area of Lyle to the top of the 550-acre Lyle Cherry Orchard property owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust.

“Vancouver and especially Camas and Washougal have really elevated their role in how they interact with this future trail vision. Now Washougal is funding the final connection, the Lewis and Clark Trail. It will be the gateway to Gorge Towns and Trails, setting the pace for the rest of the Gorge community,” Tkach said. “Camas and Washougal are incorporating it into their identity, and now Camas it calling itself a trailhead and developing signage.”

Friends of the Columbia Gorge launched Gorge Towns to Trails in 2011, in celebration of the National Scenic Area’s 30th anniversary and 40,000 acres of new public lands that came into place during that time. And much of the messaging was focused on clearing some of the congestion that had come into the Gorge. The group was exploring ways to disperse people’s usage. “How can we accommodate all these people coming for year round hiking, and the growth in population? The ‘walls and falls’ area had become so congested, it was Disneyland of the Gorge during the summer months,” said Tkach.

The group was already strategizing ways to motivate hikers and visitors to explore east Gorge gems like Stevenson, White Salmon and North Bonneville, when the fires began to rage through the Eagle Creek Wilderness.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge is in the middle of its Preserve the Wonder campaign, which aims to acquire and protect seven unique properties totaling more than 400 acres along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. The centerpiece of that campaign is Steigerwald Shores, a 160-acre riverfront property adjacent to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“With the fire happening on the Oregon side, we have this prime moment in time,” said Tkach. “How do we hit the pause button in this area and develop these other trails as well as let this fire area recover naturally?” The US Forest Service, which is the Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s land manager, is not going to replant at this time, but rather let nature take its course according to Tkach. The famous Angel’s Rest was the hottest area, and the hardest hit, but many were relieved to see that the Gorge wasn’t a barren wasteland as the fires settled down. “It’s a mosaic burn,” said Tkach, “something ideal for the forest, actually.”

Rachel Pawlitz, a public affairs officer with the National Scenic Area, agreed with dispersing tourists and hikers throughout the Gorge, but cautioned that there is crowding on the Washington side as well, especially in places like the popular climb nine miles east of Carson, Dog Mountain. She said the Forest Service hasn’t “settled in our approach” to prevent crowding, environmental impact, parking and associated issues.

As land managers, it’s the Forest Service’s credo to help visitors “leave no trace” and to prevent people having to call search and rescue. Safety and environmental impact are paramount.

Showing the Gorge some love

In the meantime, the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance started a campaign called Show the Gorge Some Love, a month long push in October to bring visitors to the Gorge with special events, sales and targeting marketing of the 18 communities on both side of the river. Similarly, the “Kick Ash” Campaign was spearheaded by the Portland Business Alliance and encouraged Portlanders to head to the Gorge.

Even in Vancouver, unlikely alliances were being formed to support tree planting and the environment in the wake of the fires, including Sky Zone and Friends of Trees.

“In the wake of the Eagle Creek fire, Sky Zone Vancouver approached us with a dodgeball tournament fundraiser for Friends of Trees,” said Sam Erman, Friends of Trees Corporate and Business Relations Specialist. “They expressed their desire to volunteer with an organization in the Gorge once they had the opportunity but wanted to take immediate action for the environment. We partner with businesses in a lot of ways and are thrilled to be working with the business community in Southwest Washington.”

Jill Burnette helms the Columbia Gorge Community Foundation. They are not directly involved with relief or restoration efforts, but rather their role during the fire was to “help disseminate information,” to provide a clearinghouse of resources that were providing relief and services during the fires.

One of the unique things about the CGCF is that is serves both sides of the river, with board members representing every county in the Gorge, including Skamania and Klickitat County in Washington.

Burnette reflected that the fire and relief efforts were well under control, and she had heard a huge amount of gratitude from community members. “The workers were really efficient. They had never met each other and certainly had never worked together before. The entire effort was incredibly well managed.”

Because CGCF is a community foundation it simply manages permanent endowments. But they do an annual grant-making program, where area organizations apply for funding. “We may see fire and restoration in the next grant making cycle. And twice a year, our donor advised funds generally choose to make grants. Any of those fundholders may elect to support a group who is involved in fire support and restoration,” said Burnette.

The Archer Mountain Fire in Skamania County started on Sept. 5 from embers blowing over the river from the Eagle Creek Fire, which had ignited several days prior. A 15-year-old Vancouver boy has since been charged with reckless burning and other allegations. The Archer Mountain Fire burned 240 acres, and was contained by mid-September, while across the river, the Eagle Creek Fire is still considered active. It has burned nearly 50,000 acres and is considered 50 percent contained as of Nov. 9.

“The Gorge is a resilient place,” said Tkach, who lives in Skamania County just a mile from the north side fires. “It’s still there, it’s still beautiful.”

Story by Jessica Swanson
Photo by Mitch Hammontree

Opus School of Music charts new course in Camas

Opus School of Music, in Ridgefield since 2006, recently set up shop in a Camas house on Northeast Second Avenue with two pianos donated from Portland Piano Company and, seemingly, a line of students out the door.

Director Rob Melton chose Camas because he wanted to locate in a community that has “great school teachers” and “families that invest in their kids.” When a friend, Dave Pitassi, ultimately led Melton to the space the school occupies now, a practice room was named after him. Room naming is an important part of the Opus aesthetic — all the rooms in the school are named after different people and things — and it lends an air of aspiration to greatness and gratitude for support.

While the school offers individual and group lessons from pre-K to adult, light retail and rentals, what sets it apart from similar schools is the jam band. All classes participate in performances and recitals throughout the year, but the jam band is a different beast. All students learn four of the same songs, including The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Brown Eyed Girl and pick up gigs around the county throughout the year. A performance might include between four and twelve kids running through their set twice. Often, previous students join in, and there are always extra bongos and shakers for audience participation.

In addition to the jam band, the Polyroux Music Festival takes place at the Old Liberty Theater in Ridgefield and showcases local and rising talent. The festival, founded and curated by Melton, has just completed its fifth year. The Autumnal showcase is, of course, each fall.

“The idea is that music is meant to be played for people,” said Melton, adding that he was “bummed out” taking lessons as a child only to learn that he had to “find that community” on his own.

Today Melton is a graduate of Portland State University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in piano performance and a Masters in Teaching Music (MAT). He used a captivating Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for the new venture. Families are included at every turn. A cozy backyard deck, front yard raised bed garden and comfy sofas inside the front door welcomes all to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

The ‘wow’ factor

Artistic Home and Garden makes DIY concrete projects simple and satisfying

Artistic Home and Garden
421 N.E. Cedar St., Camas

In a time of slumped home prices and a still-sludgy real estate market, homeowners are looking to create a “wow” factor in their yards and gardens. Artistic Home and Garden has been providing that wow factor for more than 14 years. Warehoused in Camas, the business that Tammy Ramadan and her husband Farouk started in 1997 has grown exponentially over the years and has garnered customers and fans all over the world, said Tammy Ramadan. “For some reason,” she laughed, “Norway loves us!”

Artistic Home and Garden specializes in molds for concrete items such as stepping stones, benches, birdbaths and fountains.

The company has recently carved out a niche creating architectural-style molds for concrete balusters, railings and structural columns. Farouk Ramadan is an architect and the designer of the company’s 50 unique molds, while Tammy Ramadan is a history buff and offers, as she puts it, the average homeowner perspective. Each mold tends to convey some historical reference or significance, particularly to the Northwest.

The company manufactures its molds in Washington using Pillar Plastics in Washougal for its injection molded designs and Accel in Seattle, previously contracted with a company located in the Orchards area of Clark County.

“We’ve had the opportunity to make [our molds] overseas, but we are keeping jobs here,” said Tammy Ramadan.

While the majority of Artistic Home and Garden customers are do-it-yourselfers, a fast-growing number are contractors who have made finished products from the molds part of their product offering. For the relatively low price of an injection mold, the contractor can make up to 100 reproductions of any one item before the mold begins to wear out. In the residential line, molds can last up to 50 reproductions, inspiring ubiquitous garden art projects and gift items.

Tammy Ramadan has a great rapport with her customers. They call and email to ask about products, double check instructions, offer feedback on their projects and, best of all, send photos of beloved finished works. Tammy said a lot of her ideas for molds come directly from customers, such as the balusters which are the company’s second biggest seller.

Quite a lot of customer interaction happens through the company’s website, which includes instruction downloads and videos. Customers are “really into home improvement, into nesting and making their homes beautiful,” said Tammy Ramadan. “They have the tactile experience of making their [item] on their own and they are so surprised and happy.”

–Jessica Swanson

Friday Fiver: Applewood!

Erika Albright won $5 to spend at Applewood Restaurant and Bar in last week's Friday Fiver giveaway!

Applewood is located at 2005 S.E 192nd Avenue in between Vancouver and Camas. The amazing "Chef Peter" and the story of his globetrotting inspiration will be featured in the next North Bank Magazine coming out in May! Applewood is a full restaurant, bar and well-loved catering service focused on Northwest flavors. Find Applewood on Facebook.


Birding for beginners

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Get in with a good flock, and you could be birding the world before you know it

Years ago I lived in South Minneapolis near the urban “chain of lakes.” As I was walking around Lake Calhoun one day, I came across a horde of people standing near a scope, blocking the sidewalk. I made some comment about it and heard pretty quickly that a rare bird had been spotted and that these several dozen people had gathered to “watch” it. I was totally baffled.

Today, I get it. Bird watching is second only to gardening as the most popular hobby in America, and the passion of birders may outshine those of almost any other activity. But birding, as it turns out, isn’t just watching birds, it’s a reason to travel the world, spend time in the wilderness, champion conservation and meet others who are doing the same. I like it.

Everyday, people are discovering birding for the first time. But, as it turns out, beginner birders often find themselves on a crash course.

In 1997, some friends took Vancouver resident Eric Bjorkman and his wife Tammy to a little house in central Vancouver to look at a western tanager, “a beautiful bird with a red head, yellow body and black wings.” This is the moment Bjorkman started birding.

“I had never seen that, and if I’ve missed that, what else have I missed?” he said. “At that point, my wife and I were both 37 years old. We fell in love with it right off the bat.”

Birding the world

The Bjorkmans started going on birding trips with Vancouver Audubon and its founder Wilson Cady, a local conservationist and bird expert. Today Eric Bjorkman is the president of Vancouver Audubon while Tammy is the secretary.

“We went in head over heels,” he said. “We have traveled all over the world looking for birds.” The Bjorkmans have been on birding trips to Ecuador, Costa Rica, and the African countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Uganda. Last November, they went in together on a tour of India with four other local birders. The group spotted about 220 species of birds, which is “a pretty low amount for two weeks of hard birding,” said Bjorkman, referring to the dwindling wilderness in the country. By contrast, Bjorkman and I spotted 30 to 40 species of birds in one hour of birding at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Before birding, Bjorkman said, “We would go up and down the I-5 corridor; shopping is what our vacations consisted of. Now we spend our vacations out in the wilderness, and I think our lives are much richer for it.”

The website helps connect birders with guides and lodgings all over the world.

Bob Hansen, former Marion County, Ore., director of public works, is now retired and living near Lyle in Klickitat County. By his account, he has been birding all his life, and it has meshed well with his travels as a mountain climber.

“I could point back to the fourth grade when I saw my first bird book and didn’t realize there were different kinds of hummingbirds,” he said. Other pivotal birding moments were watching dancing sandhill cranes in Malheur, Ore., and during a difficult climb in Peru, when he sketched a picture of a bird he noticed and described it in his journal, even though he could not identify it.

Getting in deep

Both Hansen and Bjorkman say that taking trips with a local Audubon Society or with birding friends or family is a great way to get started. Birding can appeal to solitary types, but soaking up information from someone with more knowledge can be exciting. Of course, some can take it quite far.

“I have many friends who are Tweeters addicts,” said Hansen, referring to a website for Washington State birding lists, sightings and resources. And, he said, it can wreak havoc on relationships when one spouse is in too deep. “I met this guy in England whose first marriage dissolved because of birding and second was because of birding.”

While birding tends to attract retirees, Hansen found ways to get his young son involved in the hobby that means so much to him. “I always encouraged him but didn’t want to over-encourage,” he said. Hansen would pay his son 25 cents for every bird he saw at their feeder, an additional quarter if he could identify it and another 50 cents if it was the first one of the day. For Hansen’s son, bird watching literally paid off.

Their habitat, our habitat

Helen and Mike Hackett are new to bird watching. When they retired to Ocean Park ten years ago, “I had no idea how beautiful the area was, “said Helen Hackett.

Today they are co-presidents of Shoalwater Birders, an organization that was formed in 1999 for bird watching and conservation on Washington’s southern coast.

When friends and family would come to visit, she said, the couple would take them to Fort Canby and other nearby tourist attractions.

“Then I’d say, what are we going to do now? Now I have beautiful places I can take people to that are just down the road.”

Helen is most impressed with what birding has taught her about her environment. “Their habitat becomes our habitat and we learn from them.”

Camas Performing Arts Series is on

The Camas Performing Arts Series will enter its 25th season this fall in a new venue, the state-of-the-art theater at Camas High School. Its previous venues, the Garfield Auditorium and the Joyce Garver Theater will both be closing this summer.

The next CPAS performance is The Bottom Line Duo on April 18. Supporters should see the season schedule in their mailboxes before then. Send an email to support CPAS or to get on its mailing list.


Local boutiques join up for sales

Last minute chocolate alert:

All day Friday (today) and Saturday, Lizzabeth A in Camas has sales of 20% to 50% off of selected merchandise. In keeping with the First Friday Camas theme, Chocolate, the shop is giving a free mini heart bag and chocolate mints with purchase.

In other shopping news, on Sunday, Feb. 8, a dozen local boutiques are having a joint spring clearance sale called Rock the Racks at 3215 SE 192nd Ave. (192nd and SE 34th) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Retailers include: Willows, Contessa, Lily Atelier, Luxe, Le Reve, T3Sixty, Clothestime, Kazoodles, Lizzabeth A, YoungArt, La Lunetterie and Ashbrook Aesthetics.

Shop local!



Annual Dungeness Crab Feast

Are you surprised I am telling you more things about food? Don’t be.

The Annual Dungeness Crab Feast is coming up at Around the Table on January 24.

The menu will include steamed dungeness crab, gorgonzola and camembert fondue with winter vegetables, clam chowder, organic greens with pears, apples and sweet curry dressing, and more. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. for $40 per person. Reservations required and can be made by contact Around the Table at 360-834-0171 or at

Thanks to Charity for great shopping news on Friday-


Farm fresh feasts

I have been remiss to sooner blab about these two great events coming up.

Tomorrow, already, as you may have heard, is the Camas Farmer’s Market Farm to Table Gala with dinner prepared by chef Peter Echevario, using produce and ingredients from local farms. The event is Saturday, Sept. 6 at Farside Farms, 4510 NW McIntosh Rd, in Camas, and includes wine tasting and a multi-course dinner for $50. If you want to sneak in last minute on the goodness, email and visit for details.

On Sept. 19, at EB Hamilton Hall on the Historic Reserve, is the second annual Vancouver Food Co-op fall fundraiser, the Local Harvest Dinner and Auction. Chefs Anna Petruolo and Jodell Hinojosa will prepare a dinner feature locally farmed ingredients. Tickets are $50 through Brown Paper Tickets. If you want to support this event by putting a poster in your window, download it and tape it up.

The feasts are on-


Camas Fresh Produce

A Camas-dwelling coworker recently tipped me off to Camas Fresh Produce, and I’m so glad she did.

The shop is brimming with colorful fruits, vegetables, snacks, drinks and spices. At least 90 percent of the products come from the United States. It’s a small space, but it holds a good variety of produce and attracts a down-to-earth variety of locals. The store’s prices are more than reasonable – the 70-cent avocadoes were my first tip, but my $24 bill for three heavy bags of food proved it.

Owner Ali Alquraisha makes a point of keeping local flavor in his store because he believes it’s better for the local economy. He works with 20 local farmers from Southwest Washington, Hood River, Gresham and Troutdale after 17 years in produce with big grocers locally and farmers markets overseas. He wants to form an alliance to certify businesses that get at least 50 percent of their products from the U.S. And he predicts a revival of farmer’s markets and local produce shops is on its way. I say, “amen” to that good news.


A Dinner Together Around the Table


They say food combining is key to a healthy diet, so combining two items about food must be key to a healthy blog post.

Small Plates, Big Difference
On Saturday, March 15, Camas small plates bistro Around the Table is hosting a fundraising dinner for the Camas Farmer’s Market, scheduled to open in just two months. A la carte tapas include crab and mango empanadas, flatbread with figs, carmelized onions and blue cheese, pork chops with peach bourbon chutney and Guinness ice cream with chocolate covered caramel corn (presumably for those celebrating St. Patrick’s Day). Reservations are recommended.

A Dinner Club
Personal chefs Anna Petruolo and Lisa Robbins are adding a new service to their cook-at-your-home enterprise, A Dinner Together. Called A Dinner Club, members can order meals a month at a time from a selection of pre-chosen menu items, picking them up in downtown Vancouver each Monday throughout the month. The club starts April 7 and the menu items include homemade mushroom ravioli, chicken enchiladas, vegetable stuffed portobello mushrooms with angel hair, chicken cordon bleu and mac n cheese with meatballs. BTW, Anna Petruolo is a member of the Vancouver Food Cooperative, and the meals are made with locally grown foods from regional farmers.

Who’s hungry now?


Foodie altert: Farmers market in downtown Camas

I know this blog is somewhat Camas heavy so far, but hey, there’s a lot going on downtown.

The Camas Downtown Vision Coalition is launching a farmer’s market on May 17 that will run every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. between Birch and Cedar streets on Fifth Avenue until October. I don’t know much other that, except they expect to offer organic produce, plants, fresh flowers and prepared foods — standard farmer’s market fare.

I hope they do make good on the promise to use organic growers — that is one thing the otherwise lovely Vancouver Farmers Market is sorely lacking.

Farmers and foodmakers, check out Camas Farmer’s Market online to get a vendor application.
Kudos to the CDVC for this great step in the right direction.


Fair trade olive oil in Camas


Fair trade and olive oil. What two things make dinner taste — and feel — better? A few months ago, Mint Tea was taste-testing Canaan Fair Trade Nabali Tree Olive Oil. It was amazing (and packaged in these very cool tall skinny bottles) so I bought some and later featured it North Bank Magazine. During that process I found out the North American Sales office is right here in Camas.

If you are interested in Fair Trade or think a store in your neighborhood might want to support olive farmers in Palestine, you should definitely hook up with Diane Adkin, who coordinates U.S. sales. They have tons of products other than olive oil that also come from Palestine and they work with major natural products companies like Dr. Bronner’s, which uses Canaan Olive Oil in their soap.

Yum, yum…


P.S. Canaan Fair Trade is going to be on Marketplace on Oregon Public Radio Thursday. Click on Local Air Times and then Marketplace.

Lara Blair at Workshed


I don’t know much about Camas photographer Lara Blair, although the images on her website are pretty stunning — evocative is the right word.

But any reason to check out Workshed Creative Agency on First Friday in Camas is a good reason. The basement music and design studio is sweet — a complete makeover and totally gorgeous. I went there for the grand opening, watched Piccolo Paradiso Pam’s super talented kid front a band and had a great time checking out the art on the walls, meeting the staff and hanging out in the lowlit studio.
Same deal there next Friday, along with the rest of downtown: food, music, art.