Excursion

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

RISING FROM THE ASHES

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

A lake to be liked

Don’t pass up this local gem for hiking, swimming and year round camping

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photos by todd gunderson

Battle Ground Lake State Park feels a world way, especially in the winter, with the fog settled on the water, dew in the grass and only the hushed sounds of anglers on the docks. Only 20 minutes from Vancouver, right outside Old Town Battle Ground, this 280-acre park collects a day-use fee of $10, and is really worth it, especially for large and small family gatherings, day hikes and horseback riding, not to mention the lake itself.

One could easily spend the day down at the picturesque lake, which is of volcanic origin and considered to be a smaller version of Oregon’s Crater Lake, according to information provided by Washington State Parks. The spring-fed lake is stocked with trout, and when we were there, a pair of fishermen were practicing fly fishing on the banks.

For hikers and families, the trail around the lake is rustic and wet and full of creatures and mushrooms to identify. It’s an infinite adventure for small feet and fingers. The trail follows or dips down right to the water in many places, and my kids were so enthralled with the riparian area that I had to drag them out of there even though it was only 50 degrees and we were all freezing.

Battle Ground Lake State Park is a year-round campground with ample facilities, but the jewel of the off-season are the four lake-facing cabins among a grove of Douglas fir trees. Each cabin is 12-by-24 feet in size and accommodates up to five people. My only complaint is that it is nearly impossible to find out how much a cabin rents for, and you have to create an online identity at washington.goingtocamp.com

before you can learn fees or reserve cabins. Since fees change from year to year and season to season, I recommend calling 888-CAMPOUT to learn more and reserve. This park has 25 standard campsites, six hookup sites and 15 primitive sites that require campers to hike a quarter- to a half-mile from the parking lot, along with group accommodations and horse camping. The primitive sites are $12 and prices go up to almost $40.

Battle Ground Lake State Park is less popular than other local parks because of the fees, but it is truly a gem, and worth a visit or a stay.  

Yacolt

Lucia Falls Park

27781 Lucia Falls Road

Lucia Falls Park along with Moulton Falls Park offer 325 acres of older growth forest, three separate waterfalls and miles of trails. The whole area is open for free to the public and offers picnicking, hiking and horse access, though no swimming is allowed at Lucia Falls, in order to protect fish habitat. Lucia Falls is truly stunning and I recommend letting your inner child go way out on the rocks to play at the edge of the East Fork of the Lewis River, checking out tiny tadpole pools and making the trip over the soaring footbridge. There is a one-mile loop trail at Lucia Falls, as well as a 2.5-mile trail to Moulton Falls Park. The nine-mile Bells trail, which also starts here, will eventually link up with the Rock Creek Campground to the South.

Yacolt Mountain Farm and Nursery

20217 N.E. Yacolt Mountain Road

yacoltmountainfarmandnursery.com

925-200-6683

I hope unbiased journalism really is dead, because I need to tell you something: Yacolt Mountain Farm and Nursery is awesome. A young couple, Dan and Caroline Swansey, left their positions as farm managers in California, and moved to the Pacific Northwest, which had captured their hearts. With the help of Caroline’s family, they purchased acreage on Yacolt Mountain Road, and through their own toil have turned it into a diverse, small-scale horse-powered farm. Yes, they farm using only horses and their own backs. They grow organic produce, which they sell by the share to members and at farmers markets, and raise sheep, goats, chickens and pigs for various uses. The horses are the heart of the operation and lovingly cared for.

Also check out: Finnmark Farms (Goat Barn and Milk Parlor). If you’ve purchased delicious raw goat milk at a shop in Clark County, chances are it comes from Finnmark Farms in Yacolt, one of a small number of local goat farms that have recently opened. You can also buy direct from the farm with prior arrangement. finnmarkfarms.com 360-949-5008

Cedar Creek Grist Mill

Cedar Creek Road

cedarcreekgristmill.com

360-225-5832

OK, so maybe you have never thought, “I really want to drive 40 miles and spend my Saturday afternoon at a historic grain mill.” But listen, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, I know you have thought “I really want to drive 40 miles and spend my Saturday in the middle of a beautiful forest on a trail next to a river.” That is why people move here in droves. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill really is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Pop inside the water-powered mill for a tour and maybe some fresh milled grain, climb up into the rafters to peer down into the turbine and then take some picturesque photos outside the covered deck next to the flume. But best of all, walk over the historic covered bridge and down the short trail to its end at water’s edge, stopping for a picnic along the way. It’s quite a serene spot in Clark County, and a National Historic Site to boot.

Pomeroy Living History Farm

20902 N.E. Lucia Falls Road

pomeroyfarm.org

360-686-3537

History, as they say, is always in the making. And it is no exception at this interactive educational farm that showcases farming techniques from the early 20th century, and is host to some of the most popular events in rural Clark County. The farm has several weekends where it is open to the public for events such as May’s very popular Herb, Vegetable and Sustainable living fair, and October’s Pumpkin Lane. For the very last time on June 8 and 9, Pomeroy will host its historic Steam Logging weekend, showcasing early logging and farming techniques. But as all things change, the educational aspect of Pomeroy Farms is making way for more private events such as weddings, and will not be open as much to the public come 2014. However, very popular formal teas are offered periodically, and they are a great way to access the farm.

White Salmon & Bingen

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photos by mary preiser potts

A pioneer family feud may have separated these two towns back in the day, but in modern times Bingen and White Salmon go together like . . . gorge and bluff. Bingen is home to big employers such as SDS Lumber and Insitu, but recreation is an important economic focus for both towns. Located just 60 miles west of Vancouver, Bingen and White Salmon reside in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. A variety of winter mountain sports are nearby and the Columbia River abounds with opportunities for summer recreation as well.

White Salmon sits on the bluff above Bingen and the view in every direction is simply picturesque. The community is primarily a mix of multi-generational residents and professional newcomers seeking a different pace to life. It has the feel of a community growing towards self-sustainability in partnership with surrounding towns.

Mugs Coffee

120 W. Steuben St., Bingen

www.mugsco.com

509-281-3100

Mugs Coffee opened in April 2012 and rivals many an urban coffee shop in terms of atmosphere, quality and service. The cafe is freshly painted in contemporary colors with hardwood flooring and wood furnishings, resulting in a clean, wide open feel with plenty of seating and natural light. Pastries, muffins and hand pies are made fresh daily by local bakers, but I couldn’t resist the tug of a slice of house made brie, prosciutto and fig quiche to go along with a decadent cinnamon swirl latte. Both were excellent. For lunch, panini sandwiches, soup and salad round out the menu. The service was friendly and the environment warm and inviting. The contemporary outdoor “Mugs” signage was created by local metal artist, Nick Miles (outrageousiron.com).

Alma Terra Tasting Room and Wine Bar

208 W. Steuben St., Bingen

www.almaterrawines.com

All the reasons to visit the Gorge are found in Bingen and White Salmon, including local wine. The Alma Terra Tasting Room and Wine Bar opened less than two years ago and showcases the talents of geologist/viticulturist Alan Busacca and winemaker Robert Smasne. Alma Terra endeavors to create superb single-vineyard Syrah and Voignier wines from vineyards in three regional AVA’s. The result is wine that is deeply characteristic of the geography and climate where the grapes are grown, wine with a sense of place, or terroir. Alma Terra is open Thursday through Sunday with live music on Friday evenings.

Yoga Samadhi

177 W. Jewett Blvd., White Salmon

www. columbiagorgeyoga.com

509-637-4293

Located directly across from the Inn of the White Salmon, Yoga Samadhi is clearly a hub for yogic and meditation practices. I spotted a number of folks coming and going, yoga mats tucked under their arms. The street entrance is a stark and unassuming office building, but the studio is spacious with windows offering a spiritual view of the Gorge and Mt. Hood in the distance. Yoga Samadhi offers a variety of classes as well as a weekly meditation with Buddhist monks residing at the nearby Pacific Hermitage (pacifichermitage.org) and a monthly gathering called One River Dances of Universal Peace. Owner Kathy Kacena has been teaching yoga since 1999.

Feast Market & Delicatessen

320 E. Jewett Blvd., White Salmon

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Feast opened its doors on June 21, 2012, focusing on local, organic, sustainable foods and household goods. The deli case is full of artisan cheeses, charcuterie and house made whole foods. The coolers are stocked with fresh eggs and produce from nearby farms. Local beer and wine is available, as well as an assortment of dry goods, including a new bulk section. Earth friendly cleaners, detergents, baby diapers and handmade soaps round out the selection. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and in the summers, utilize a spacious outdoor patio with (at the risk of sounding repetitive) a fabulous view of the Gorge and Mt. Hood.

Solstice Wood Fire Cafe

415 W. Steuben St., Bingen

www. solsticewoodfirecafe.com

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: No excursion to the heart of the Gorge would be complete without stopping in at Solstice. Best known for scrumptious pizzas baked in their Italian wood fire oven, Solstice also offers wood-fired chicken, Moroccan beef stew and hearty pasta dishes. They serve local wines, as well as a rotating selection of beer and kombucha on tap. Truly an artisan, family friendly space, Solstice now has a roving pizza oven for even more community gathering.

Inn of the White Salmon

172 W. Jewett Blvd., White Salmon

www. innofthewhitesalmon.com

509-493-2335

This regional landmark was built in 1937. When Dennice and David Dierck took over ownership in 2007, they brought it into the new millennium. Antique furnishings made way for contemporary décor utilizing reclaimed and sustainable hardwoods and eco-friendly carpeting. Each of the 15 private rooms and a hostel room feature inspiring quotes painted on the walls and the hallways are adorned with local art. Last spring they updated the landscaping around the imposing brick edifice, installing rain barrels and adding native plants. They offer vouchers to local restaurants, all within walking distance. Owner Dennice Dierck says that the comment she hears most often from her Vancouver guests is that they can’t believe how different it is here – the climate, the landscape, the pace of things, and yet it’s so close to home.

Kalama

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photos by mary preiser potts

Kalama Middle/High School was made famous in 2008 by scenes shot in the parking lot for the first Twilight movie. Looking up at the imposing brick building built around 1938, it’s not difficult to imagine vampires lurking about.

Long before Twilight, however, Kalama was a destination town for folks crazy about antiques. A short stroll down First Street reveals about half a dozen antiques and collectibles shops, each with a unique flavor.

Easy day trips from Kalama include Astoria, Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier National Park.

Kalama Koffee

724 Northeast Frontage Road

360-673-3913

This tiny coffee shop is located just off I-5. Not only is it convenient to get to, but the double-paned glass keeps out a surprising amount of highway noise. It is cozily decorated with antiques and an impressive floor mural that runs throughout the shop. We sipped delicious, local Chinook Coffee Roasters coffee while playing a relaxed (and long) game of chess that unfortunately ended in a stalemate. They also offer baked goodies and ice cream in addition to an exhaustive list of espresso drinks and coffee.

Marine Park and Louis Rasmussen Day Use Park

Port of Kalama

360-673-2325

This park runs along the Columbia River where fishermen line the sandy, driftwood populated shore to fish for steelhead, chinook and sturgeon. This park boasts the tallest one-piece totem pole in the Pacific Northwest. At 140 feet, it’s a pretty impressive sight. What’s truly impressive, though, is the day use park. Five acres stretch out from the walking path along the river. Huge grassy fields, picnic tables, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, as well as a playground are all conveniently located right above the beach.

Antique Deli & Pastry Shoppe

413 North First Street

360-673-3310

The Antique Deli and Pastry Shoppe was recommended to us several times by local shop owners. As evidenced by the steady stream of people coming and going, it’s a popular place to eat. We ordered sandwiches at the counter and found an empty table near the window. A tuna sandwich with homemade potato salad and a turkey breast sandwich with a side of homemade pasta salad came to us lightning quick and on the thickest homemade wheat bread I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I was a little daunted by those slabs of bread, but taking my first bite, it was clear that the bread was soft and housed the tuna salad inside just right. The women working there were friendly and efficient and, though it was busy, did not neglect to thank us when we left.

Lee’s Attic Antiques and Collectibles

413 North First Street

360-673-3535

Lee’s Attic is located inside the Hendrickson Antique Mall, along with The Country Gentleman and the Antique Deli and Pastry Shoppe. Curated by owner Lee Bunn, the selection includes a variety of old tools and a case full of baseball memorabilia. You’ll also find vintage clothing, kitchen items, glass, linens and toys.

Old Tin Roof Antiques

175 North First Street

360-673-2467

Old Tin Roof Antiques is a mix of creatively displayed used and new home décor items. Because scented candles are part of the mix, it smells surprisingly unlike an antique store. Signs, letterpress letters and small maps, as well as furniture, kitchen items and a phone booth were among the interesting finds. According to owner Craig Rogers, holiday décor like molded plastic santas, are some of the hottest items he sells during the holiday season.

Judy’s Antiques

135 North First Street

360-673-4415

Judy’s Antiques is an iconic antique store – musty, filled with treasures of all kinds and wonderful! Judy’s offers a great variety of just about everything from furniture and glass to antique clocks, radios, toys, tapestries, clothing, postcards and more. Owner Judy Swain, has 28 years experience in the antique business. She got her start picking items from the area open dump and selling the treasures she found at garage sales. From there, she sold at flea markets, owned a store in Longview and, finally, opened this spacious location in Kalama two years ago.

Rivertown Antique Market

155 Elm Street

360-673-2263

Located on the main floor of an enormous renovated church, the Rivertown Antique Market is well worth the short walk from First Street. If you’re looking for large furniture items or antiques from around the world, this is the place. Some impressive pieces included a Thai ‘King’s’ Throne, a painted Chinese room divider, several large, religious-themed stained glass windows, an oversized spinning wheel and an Egyptian triptych.

Grace’s Place

226 North First Street

360-442-0064

And, because downtown Kalama has more to offer than antiques, I also stopped by Grace’s Place, a full service beauty salon run by Grace Harris, a Kalama High School graduate (class of 2001). Grace is a multi-creative woman who not only specializes in hair, but is a singer/songwriter as well. You can find Grace’s music at www.reverbnation.com/graceharris. Check out the sidebar for more of Kalama’s young entrepreneurs.


Kalama culture

Don’t miss the rest of the antique stores on First Street: Lucky Penny Antiques and Collectibles, Drew and Davis Antiques, Memory Lane Antique Mall and The Country Gentleman. And be sure to visit the young entrepreneurs keeping Kalama vibrant: Jenn Davenport Photography (447 N. First Street, 360-431-3673), Angela Nicole’s Photography (175 North First Street, 360-673-2177) and Kalama Skin and Body Day Spa (150 Fir Street, 360-673-7546).

PS: Check out our theme story on page 11 for awesome antiquing opportunities in downtown Vancouver.