Clark County

Don’t miss out on Lake Merwin

What is so special about Lake Merwin? My friends and I all love to take our kids there. Though most of my friends are bringing their families from nearby Woodland, Yacolt and La Center, I relish the occasional trek from downtown Vancouver to clear my head and let my kids run and play in the crystal clear lake.

Lake Merwin is a reservoir on the East Fork of the Lewis River. The lake is cool and clear even on the most scorching of summer days Vancouver seems to be suffering lately, and worth paying a visit in the cool days as well.

Merwin Park, at the west end of the Merwin reservoir, is open year round for swimming, boarding, fishing and general hanging about. The park can accommodate big groups of people, with 250 parking spots and 135 picnic tables. Merwin Park is especially family friendly, with a playground, clean and spacious restrooms, and hiking trails. Speelyai Bay Park at the east end is also open for day use year round. Smaller but equally as beautiful as Merwin Park, Speelyai offers a busy two-lane boat ramp, another 250 parking spots, but only 25 picnic tables.

Cresap Bay campground, east of Speelyai Bay Park, is open the Friday before Memorial Day and closed September 30. So consider making campsite reservations now for the busy time. Reservations can be made up to nine months in advance, and considering the increasing pull of the East Fork, it’s a good idea to be planning ahead. Cresap Bay Campground has a swimming beach, 56 overnight campsites and a group camping facility with 15 sites, a covered shelter and a fireplace. A two-lane boat ramp and 23-slip marina are available to overnight guests.

While you won’t be able to camp at Lake Merwin yet, take a day trip to two to this spectacular portion of the Upper Lewis River during one of our many beautiful spring days.

photo by evans burik


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

Waxing on about bees

Jacqueline Freeman is making a buzz in the field that chose her – beekeeping.

Originally from small towns in New England, Jacqueline and her husband Joseph Freeman moved to Seattle years ago and tried to be city dwellers. Soon, they discovered they just weren’t urbanites and in 2002 found 10 acres in tiny Venersborg in Clark County. While they didn’t intend to farm, today they have acres of gardens, pasture and forest, home to cows, hens, a goat, three cats, a dog and a few hundred thousand honey bees.

Jacqueline’s relationship with bees began when she was offered a hive from a couple that was moving from their house in Portland.

“I was fascinated from day one,” she said. “I was transfixed. I spent all this time with the bees. It wasn’t just a box of bugs.”

Over the years, Jacqueline learned about organic gardening, permaculture, and what really resonated was biodynamics, essentially a spiritual approach to organic gardening. She became a certified beekeeper and joined the Clark County Beekeepers Association. She quickly noticed most methods for contemporary beekeeping involved the use of chemicals and medicines to keep the bees alive and productive. But the more she listened to the bees, the more she knew she couldn’t take this approach. Her fellow beekeepers told her she would lose whole hives – and she did – but today she has ten working hives and a wealth of knowledge to keep them thriving. And the tides are changing – today, four out of the five officers at the bee club are fully organic.

After years of talking and listening to her bees, Jacqueline started writing down what she was learning through experience – and what the bees themselves were saying to her in her meditative sessions by their hives. Eventually, she had a book on organic beekeeping fleshed out. With the help of Susan Chernak McElroy (New York Times bestselling author of “Animals as Teachers & Healers”), she completed “The Song of Increase: Returning to our Sacred Partnership with Honeybees.”

The self-published tome was quickly picked up by Sounds True Publishing and will soon be translated into languages around the world. Jacqueline accepts invitations from across the country and Europe to talk about bees and meet with beekeepers.

Back at the farm, she offers classes of all kinds, and Joseph teaches a physical therapy technique he developed for horses. But the bees have become a central and sacred part of their journey.

Jacqueline Freeman
Friendly Haven Rise Farm
20309 N.E. 242nd Ave., Battle Ground



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.

Home on the Ranch

La Center homestead offers organic vegetables and place to lay your head

photo by jessica swanson

Coyote Ranch garden in La Center Washington

If anyone leads a green life, it’s Val Alexander and Kelly Lindgren, her boyfriend of 29 years. Alexander is the owner of Coyote Ridge Ranch, a family homestead that has become a gathering place for organic food enthusiasts, environmentalists, Native Americans and travelers-through.

Alexander bought her first 11 acres outside of La Center in 1964. Her husband had been a horse jockey and they traveled from place to place. When they started having kids, Alexander decided it was time to settle down. Later, Alexander added 49 more adjacent acres and then another 14.

Today, the property is home to several playfully named dwelling places, including the Lodge, Mary’s Chalet, the Treehouse and the Office. Her daughter lives in a house with her husband and children. Juan Vidal, the ranch’s manager, and his wife Laticia live on the property with their children. A small cabin built in the 1930s referred to as the Last Outpost sits at the very northern edge of the property and is inhabited by a renter.

The lion’s share of property is wooded, but the heart of it is about an acre of organic gardens featuring every kind of vegetable – many in unique raised beds – and several mini orchards situated around the space, as well as flower beds and two greenhouses. Coyote Ridge Ranch has a sparkling clean and organized u-pick station with a sink, scales, knives and so on to accommodate the farm’s customers. Eggs are often available from the resident chickens.

Alexander and Lindgren host harvest dinners in the long greenhouse, and this fall they are hosting visitors of the Grande Ronde tribe, who will canoe up the river and be transported to the Ranch. Alexander is a default member of the tribe, but descends from Cascade Chinook and Yakima. There are Native American symbols, memorabilia and photographs around the Ranch’s buildings.

Alexander opens her doors to like minded individuals for gatherings and stays. The couple has a special place in their hearts for environmentalists and green living, as evidenced in the unique features, furniture and decorations throughout their home. The front door of the Lodge came from the Department of Transportation building off of Main Street in Vancouver via the ReBuilding Center in Portland, as were many other pieces throughout the buildings. Antiques are around every corner, and every item has its own living story.

Help redesign Fourth Plain public transit!

Did you know?

One out of every three C-TRAN riders uses the Fourth Plain Boulevard transit corridor. With over 6,000 trips provided each day it is the highest ridership corridor within C-TRAN's system. In recent years, transit travel within the corridor has suffered with longer and more unpredictable travel times caused by traffic congestion, bus overcrowding and difficulty getting to and from bus stops.  C-TRAN is attempting to solve these problems through the Fourth Plain Transit Improvement Project whose planning effort is funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the community is invited to participate in a design workshop to help craft transit solutions for the Fourth Plain corridor. The Wednesday workshop takes place at Clark College's Gaiser Hall Student Center on Fort Vancouver Way, between Fourth Plain and McLoughlin boulevards in Vancouver; and the Saturday workshop will be held at the C-TRAN's Administrative Office, located at 2425 N.E. 65th Ave., Vancouver.   

Breakout sessions will allow participants to choose which part of Fort Vancouver Way and Fourth Plain they would like to help design, while real-time design visuals will be displayed for participants to have an immediate vision of their transit solutions. The workshop also provides participants with a brief overview as to why transit improvements are needed along Fourth Plain Boulevard and a basic understanding of how Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) operates. 

At their November meeting, the C-TRAN Board of Directors approved lane concepts for BRT and design parameters for Forth Plain Boulevard. As a result, the project is now moving towards the development of both BRT and non-BRT solutions for further evaluation. The transit solutions that result from this workshop will be presented to the project's Corridor Advisory Committee and Project Management Team in early December.

The top two or three options that surface during this planning phase will be evaluated over the next six to eight months, with a final decision on the preferred alternative expected by the C-TRAN Board of Directors in the summer of 2012. C-TRAN will then begin seeking federal funding to design and eventually build the selected transit project.  Local funding for construction, operation and maintenance costs for the tr  ansit line will be included in a potential ballot measure in the fall of 2012.

Buy Local Gift Guide: Pick it up on stands today!

Here are a couple of suggestions for buying local this holiday season, from our gift guide in the new North Bank Magazine, out on stands today!

Suburban Contessa, various shops | Facebook

Vancouver-based Suburban Contessa offers three flavors of caramel corn that are available through its website and at stores throughout the region. In addition to the purveyor’s Traditional Caramel Corn, Sweet with Heat is Traditional with added pepper, and Sweet and Salty is Traditional with Hawaiian sea salt, just rolled out in September. The popped corn is available in 6 oz. bags for $5.25, and a variety gift pack featuring a bag of each for $14.95.


Solstice Wood Fire Café
415 W. Steuben St., Bingen
509-493-4006 | Facebook

A trip to this restaurant is a gift to the whole family. A laid-back atmosphere and kids’ area will make anyone who walks in the door feel comfortable. And the pizza (local, seasonal ingredients plus brilliant pairings) will make you feel like you’ve died and gone to a four-star restaurant in a big ol’ city. As for gifts, I recommend a gift certificate of any size, a T-shirt featuring Solstice’s gorgeous logo, or a quart of the famous Moroccan Beef Stew. Bonus! Among the 50 best pies in the country, according to Food Network Magazine: Solstice’s Country Girl Cherry pizza.


Navidi’s Oils and Vinegars
322 N.E. Cedar St., Camas
360-210-5921 | Facebook

Give salt of the earth for a gift this year. Navidi’s Oils and Vinegars has an impressive selection of just what their name says, but don’t miss the gourmet sea salts, almost two dozen of which are available, including White Truffle, Alaea Red, Cyprus Flake and Northwest Alderwood Smoked. Sea salt is a great alternative to table salt and a fun addition to the holiday feast.






SW WA foreclosure resources

In the summer edition of North Bank Magazine, which will be released on Friday, there is a story about the continuing problem of foreclosures in Southwest Washington by writer Jodie Gilmore. Many local resources are available for those facing foreclosure, as well as the Foreclosure Fairness Act, a Washington bill that was signed into law on April 14. If you or someone you know is considering foreclosure, read on….

Foreclosure Fairness Act

The Foreclosure Fairness Act attempts to reduce much of the frustration experienced by homeowners trying to communicate with their banks about mortgage modifications and foreclosure procedures. Its aim is to stem the flow of foreclosures in the state.

“Right now, communication isn’t happening on both sides,” said Alex Kamaunu, executive director and counselor at the Family Financial Resource Center (FFRC) in Longview, which helps Cowlitz and neighboring county residents with mortgage default issues.

Advocates of the bill, said Kamaunu, simply want lenders to take Washington state homeowners and their problems seriously.

Among other things, the law:

  • Requires lenders to communicate early in the foreclosure process to give homeowners the best opportunities to get help from a HUD-approved foreclosure counseling agency.
  • Outlines a mediation process.
  • Establishes a $250 fee on each notice of default, payable by the lender. The fee will primarily fund more housing counselors.

Community resources

HUD-approved foreclosure counseling agencies:

  • Community Housing Resource Center (Vancouver) – serves Clark County and northwest Oregon. 360-690-449
  • Family Finance Resource Center (Longview) – serves several counties, including Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, and Pacific. 360-423-9197

The following organizations can help with other financial issues, such as credit counseling, utility bill vouchers, home repairs, etc.

  • Financial Independence Center (Longview) — serves Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. 360-425-343
  • Clark County Community Action Program (Vancouver) — serves Clark county. 360-397-2130
  • Washington Gorge Action Programs. Serves counties in the Columbia Gorge. 509-493-2662
  • Coastal Community Action Program. Serves counties on the Pacific coast. 800-828-4883

On the web





Plant flowers at Propstra Square

The Parks Foundation is recruiting volunteers to help plant the large planters and flowerbeds in and around Propstra Square, at Esther Short Park on Saturday, May 14. The planting will begin at 9 a.m. and is expected to be completed by 11 a.m. Event sponsor Hilton Vancouver Washington will provide refreshments for volunteers both before and after the planting.  

Volunteers must preregister through the Parks Foundation office by Thursday, May 12, arrive at Propstra Square no later than 8:45 the morning of May 14 to sign volunteer forms, and should bring their own small gardening trowel. Please contact the Parks Foundation office at 360-487-8370 or email Cheri Martin to preregister. For more information, please see event flyer.

Flowers and plants for the 2011 planting were funded through Parks Foundation Propstra Square Memorial Brick sales. To help support future plantings, please consider purchasing a Memorial Brick.  

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.


Friday Fiver: Farrar’s!

Washougal resident Stephanie Hatton won $5 to spend at Farrar's Bistro in last week's Facebook Friday Fiver!

Farrar's is located at 12514 NW 36th Ave. in Felida. The bistro serves lunch and dinner during the week and breakfast and dinner on weekends, as well as coffee drinks. Specialities include pulled pork and other smoked meats and AWESOME mac and cheese. Pictured above: Banana bread pudding. Delish. 🙂


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.”

A Green Thing:Reusable snack and sandwich bags

BugBaby Designs


Made in Washougal, these reusable snack and sandwich bags by BugBaby Designs are totally adorable and totally practical at the same time. The snack bags are the perfect size for a fat single serving, and the sandwich bags even fit a double decker. The bags are made with a 100 percent cotton print lined with waterproof polyurethane-lined knit, which keeps the outside of the bag clean and dry, and your sandwich or snack fresh. The flap closure is secured with Velcro. With these cutie-pie sacks, it’s almost fun to pack a lunch. Handmade Moses baskets are also available from BugBaby Designs, as well as custom bedding.

Battle Ground gallery fills a North County need

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Avalon Art Gallery and Studio has inhabited a light-filled, two-story space in the live-work-shop development Battle Ground Village since last May. Complete with a top floor classroom and wrought-iron upper balcony, Avalon has fashioned itself a place to gather and support culture in North County. Paulette Wanless Smith and her husband and silent partner Bruce Smith came out of retirement to bring more life to an already flourishing local arts community. However, with the close of the Cupola Gallery in April of 2010, North County artists were facing a venue shortage.

Wanless Smith, herself a hobby potter, has been involved with the Battle Ground Art Alliance for 10 years and is the current president. So finding a passel of unique local artists came easy, pulling from the Ridgefield Art Association and the Northwest Oil Painters Guild, as well as the BGAA and others.

The 1500-square-foot space is a showcase of Northwest artists, and many mediums are unusual such as Bob Cossman’s leather arts. More than two dozen artists are represented in the gallery, and most live in Clark County, but others are based around the region, hailing from Whidbey Island, Gig Harbor and Lake Oswego, Ore. Current and recent artists include Austin Barton (bronze sculpture), Tina Hunter (mosaic), Diane Ringer (gourds and paper), Ann Cavanaugh (fused glass) and Jim Gola (oil).

In this economy, a proprietor has to have a few tricks up her sleeve to make a go of a new art gallery in a small community. Wanless Smith, fortunately, has more than a few. Each artist who shows in the gallery pays $30 per month to be there, and the gallery takes a modest 30 percent commission on top. Avalon also has two classroom spaces for use by local instructors who pay a fee to teach in the space.

On one wall is a collection of artists who offer portraits on commission. And custom framing by Vancouver’s Aurora Gallery is available by appointment in the upstairs space. Artists who are framing their own work get 20 percent off on framing. The gallery is also available for meeting and event rental. Another revenue generator are monthly events hosted in the space. Each featured artist is highlighted for two months. On the second Friday of the first month, a traditional art opening showcases the artists’ work. On the following Friday, a varying special event is on the books.

Avalon Art Gallery & Studio

Battle Ground Village

819 S.E 14th Loop, Ste. 109, Battle Ground


Early Intervention Resources

Contact Information for Birth-to-Three Early Childhood Intervention Programs in Southwest Washington

Educational Opportunities for & Family
Vancouver, WA

Cowlitz & Wahkiakum                                                          
Progress Center Inc.   
Longview, WA

Lori Carpenter
Longview School District

ESD 112                                             
Vancouver, WA                                              

Rosanne McPhail
ESD 112

ESD 112                                             
Vancouver, WA                                              

Hillary Brunton
White Salmon, WA

Or check out this page of the Washington State Early Support for Infants & Toddlers Contact Directory:

Helpful Websites

The Progress Center in Longview, Washington—serves Cowlitz & Wahkiakum counties

Educational Opportunities for Children & Families (EOCF)—serves Clark County

Educational Service District #112—serves Clark, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Skamania and Klickitat counties

National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center—has lots of helpful links and information

SELF—a network of resources to serve the needs of children aged birth to 5, families, providers, and the community at large

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—a federal program for low-income women, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk

Facebook Friday Fiver winner!

Glenn Grossman of Vancouver won a free family pass worth $10 to the  Clark County Historical Museum during our last Facebook Friday Fiver (Tenner? Tenor?) Thanks Susan Tissot and CCHM for such a generous gift to one of our readers!

The Clark County Historical Museum is located at 1511 Main Street in Vancouver and can be reached at 360-993-5679. Currently featured at the museum is Autumn Trout Gathering, a Celebration of Richard Brautigan, running through Jan. 30. Ongoing is Road to Equality: The struggle for women’s rights in the Northwest.

Do you know other businesses that would like to draw in customers by giving away $5 during our Facebook Friday Fiver promotion? Write on our wall.


First Facebook Friday Fiver Winner!

Vancouver resident and local shopper Sunrise O’Mahoney won the Dec. 3 Facebook Friday Fiver donated by Mint Tea Imports! Mint Tea is located at 2014 Main St. in Vancouver, and features a bistro open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a variety of local, fair trade, organic and imported goods. Find them online at or call 360-699-4991.

Facebook Friday Fiver gives one lucky shopper $5 to spend at a local merchant every week. Follow North Bank Now for a local trivia question every Friday morning. Merchants, have a Fiver to give away? Email me at today!


Businesses support the 3/50 Project

VintageBooksBy Jessica Swanson
Photos by Todd Gunderson

The 3/50 Project, launched a year ago by a Minneapolis retail consultant and former shopkeeper, has inspired thousands of businesses across the country to educate their customers on the importance of shopping locally. The reason it worked? It gives customers specific instructions and retailers simple tools.

Donna Jensen popped 3/50 Project flyers into her customers’ bags whenever they bought something at her Washougal yarn shop, It’s a Crewel World Yarn and Stitchery Shop. She printed up the flyer offered at It explains the simple concept: choose three independently owned brick-and-mortar businesses and spend $50 at them each month.

Donna, who sold her business after 24 years to Washougal resident and longtime customer Jennifer Powell in April, felt it was her job to educate her customers about how crucial it is to shop locally.

“I don’t think they have a clue,” she said. “I think they will go where they can best spend their money, and they spend $10 in gas to save a buck.”

The flyers spell out the benefits of shopping locally in black and white: “If just half the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in independently owned businesses,” it reads, “their purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.”

Donna said her customers would come in and show her yarn they bought on the Internet, or look at her yarn and then go find a better deal online.

“They tell me they didn’t have to pay tax and all this,” she said, “but the shipping is more than the tax would be and (shopping locally would) keep the tax dollars at home.”

Jennifer is going to support local spending in new ways when she takes over the business. She will feature yarn from Clark County alpaca and sheep, and she plans to connect those learning to knit with local designers who can help them bring their visions to life for a small fee.

Becky Milner has owned a “bricks-and-mortar” business in Vancouver for 35 years, Vintage Books. She learned about The 3/50 Project from one of the booksellers associations she belongs to. She keeps the 3/50 poster in her window and makes a point of thanking customers for shopping in the store, tailoring merchandise to regulars’ taste and frequenting other independent businesses.

But Becky’s business depends on the sales that the store does online, theoretically taking money out of the communities that those online customers live in. Very early in the store’s life, when its focus was automotive manuals and classic car ephemera, Becky offered a mail order catalog. The store started selling online in 1994 and today is considering social media. Without the online traffic, her business may not exist at all.

“The extra 20 to 25 percent (in sales) are really important to us,” she said. “We carry books that our local customers wouldn’t want. It lets us carry a broader selection of books. Technology is always changing, as are the avenues for selling books.”

Wendy Kosloski’s Longview business, Teague’s Interiors, is also a supporter of The 3/50 Project. (Businesses can be listed on the project’s website as “supporters.”) The fact that materials are available make it easy, and she said “it’s nice to see a larger group of people” pushing consumers to shop in their own towns and neighborhoods.

Wendy said the fact that 2009 ended with seven new businesses in downtown Longview is “a sign of the upturn,” but that the downturn may have actually helped some independent businesses stay afloat.

“There are things about the recession, like tightening your belt and watching gas, that helped us,” she said.

Wendy also believes that online shopping has hurt physical shops, but her store is somewhat protected because it is “custom decorating with a galley and boutique,” and her services must be done in person.

Wendy is going far beyond flyers and posters to support local businesses, especially those with a creative angle. The upper floor of her building, the historic Title Building, is now the Working Art Center. Seven connected commercial spaces with access to shared common areas are for lease at $300 a month. They are being marketed to studio artists and small businesses. In the Commerce Building next door, seven studio apartments are for rent, creating a charming and historic live-work environment unique in Longview.

As Wendy sees it, “independent businesses offer knowledge and service close to home and out of the ordinary.” And she, like her indie counterparts in Southwest Washington, continue to educate their customers and support each other.

“When I go into a shop,” said Becky Milner, “I say ‘Thank you for being here. Thank you for being independent.’”