Urban Family


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.

Little cups hold big dreams

Play cafe adds preschool and franchise opportunities

photos by jessica swanson

ust one year ago last October, Little Cups and Grownups opened on Main Street in Old Town Battle Ground. Matt Parker had left behind his job as a bodyshop manager and – a little blessing – his commute from Battle Ground to Beaverton. He and his wife Janelle decided to do something that held meaning for their family of six – open a “play cafe” in their hometown. At the same time, the popular Cafe Sip and Play in East Vancouver suddenly closed, and they were able to score some beloved toys and fixtures. Four months later, the Sip and Play space was still for rent, so they took it over and now run two shops most days of the week.

This fall, the Parkers started a preschool in the Battle Ground location. At press time, 12 kids were enrolled in two classes – a three- to five-year-old class and a “two and you” class for children and parents to attend together.

“We needed something to help supplement the cafe, and Battle Ground is a good place for another preschool because the other ones fill up really fast,” said Parker. The Parkers’ former onsite business office was converted to classroom space, where the preschoolers do arts and crafts and then have playtime in the main space. The school is starting small, but the eventual goal is to offer classes for three age groups: 2, 3 to 4 and 4 to 5, and double enrollment in the first year.

Play area 2

Despite – or maybe because of – all the excitement, I can almost hear the tired in Parker’s voice as he describes the family’s journey over the last year.

“It has been a lot of hard work – a lot harder than we anticipated,” he said. “This is the most challenging thing we have ever done.” The Parkers used their savings to launch their business. They have different business partners at each location, but those partners are not active in the stores.

The Parkers are now offering franchise opportunities with Little Cups. “The family opening a third location – it would be too much for us to do, but it could be great for somebody else,” said Matt. “They would get the benefits, name brand and all the experience that we’ve gleaned over the last year.”

Little Cups and Grownups


Battle Ground

614 E. Main St., 360-687-2045

East Vancouver

3000 S.E. 164th Ave., Suite 107, 360-254-2375

Work for the future

Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail is a perfect family outing

Family Biking

photo by claire beagle

I am a little ashamed to admit that I lived on Vancouver’s west side for years before I “discovered” the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail. And to keep that from happening to you, I wanted to feature it here. We stroll the beautiful west end, starting at the Stewart Glen Trailhead on Fruit Valley Road in full view of the creek ready to open to Vancouver Lake. We walk toward Kiggins Bowl, usually stopping at the grass bottomland just short of Main Street.

My kids are very small but even they love it, locating leaves just the size of their hands and learning about how fallen trees feed whole forests. There are a few trails that lead up off the path, great for exploring further, and cyclists, strollers, skateboarders and joggers to cooperate with. Native species flourish here, as do invasive plants, and some vandalists, unfortunately, but as Carlos Ocejo, maintenance worker lead for Greenway sensitive lands, says, “there are all kinds of teachable moments here.” He volunteers on the Greenway with his kids and encourages others to do the same.

The eight-mile hard-surfaced shared-use trail follows the creek from Northwest Bernie Road to the developing jewel Leverich Park, then through the forests and grasslands of Arnold Park, past State Route 500, on to Meadow Homes Park, and it ends just west of Northeast 90th Avenue and Burton Road.

There are parking lots dedicated for Greenway users and several kinds of facilities along the way, including seasonal restrooms, event spaces, disc golf, sports fields and a track at Kiggins Bowl.

The trail includes bottom and upper lands and so “there is a lot of plant variety throughout the whole trail,” said Ocejo, and a diverse tree canopy. Trail users will find a mix of deciduous, conifers and evergreen trees along with native species such as ninebark, Indian plum, spirea, red currant and thimbleberry.

Reed canarygrass is among the biggest trouble makers in this riparian zone trail, especially in the section starting at 65th Avenue and 18th Street. Ocejo’s crew is exploring several chemical free ways of eradicating the plant and have had some success on this stretch of the trail. The grass seed can live for 100 years, so it poses a special threat. Methods to discourage reed canarygrass include dense planting of native species and tilling a field of it and covering it with plastic. The crew has even looked at using goats.

When Ocejo talks about taking a job on the Greenway, his sentiments echo mine exactly: “I wanted to be here. It seems like work for the future.”

Keeping kids healthy is a matter of real food

Karen Kennedy, MS, Certified Nutritionist

photo by anni becker

Karen Kennedy, MS, Certified Nutritionist
Real Food Matters
Kennedy teaches cooking, nutrition and health classes to people of all ages — and she also taught yoga for 15 years. But can you guess what her favorite class is? Knife skills!

To Karen Kennedy, real food matters. Finishing her graduate studies in nutrition led her to working on a large-scale organic farm in England and to opening a nutrition practice in Bristol. While living abroad, she consulted with individuals and families, and taught nutrition and cooking classes. After starting her family, she moved back to the states with her husband. A position with Washington State University put her in front of Vancouver public school students teaching nutrition and cooking, as well as adult diabetes education, all while establishing her family’s five-acre homestead in La Center, the Rippl Family Farm. Today, Kennedy has re-established her practice, and she has begun corporate wellness classes, community classes at such venues as Cotton Babies in Vancouver, individual consulting and working directly with patients referred from Dr. Josephine Drew at Ridgefield Family Medicine.

Kennedy’s breadth of knowledge and ability is wide, but a significant focus is on teaching folks about the importance of consuming real foods. Children, she said, are the “most vulnerable” to a food system that can no longer be trusted to nourish people. “They are growing so quickly,” she said. “They are the most important ones.”

When asked what is the most important advice she has for parents about how to nourish their children, she said parents need to provide completely unprocessed or very minimally processed foods. She encourages people to see what they can make at home, to try preparing traditional, healthy foods. For example, she said, “You can make yogurt at home. Go-Gurt is a real stretch from what you can make at home.”

She also said to “make sure kids get protein with each meal. Call it their growing food – the language we use with kids is very important. They are always trying to be a bigger person.”

Because her own kids are in school, Kennedy also notes a health-disrupting trend of often rewarding children with sugary snacks and “treats.”

“Treats are great, like a birthday cake or celebratory meal, and making cookies together. But a treat isn’t a treat when you get it everyday.”

Play the day away

Family makes fun priority number one

Family in a park

photo by buck heidrick

When Cafe Sip n Play on Vancouver’s east side suddenly closed down over the summer, one heard the collective gasp of shock and grief from moms of young children across the metro area. The cafe where kids could play and parents could drink coffee and check their phones was wildly popular with the five-and-under set.

But alas, there is a new game in town. Part play cafe, part kids’ club, part preschool, the Vancouver Mall-located new tot hotspot appears to be Steamers and Screamers, which was to hold its grand opening celebration on November 17 and 18 with author Nancy Tillman onboard for a booksigning and a reading. (We went to press before the opening and hit the streets after, so some details in this story may have changed.)

Jenny Wiglesworth and her husband Carl, the parents of two small children, built on the Sip n Play concept and leased a midtown space big enough for playing, eating, classes and more.

“I had no clue this would be a good business” Jenny Wiglesworth said. “I just saw there were not enough places to go and talk to my friends and have a place for my kids to play,”

The shop is 3,000 square feet with a 1,500-square-foot play area designed for walkers to school aged children. Play equipment in the divided play area includes a climbing structure, pirate ship (!), a large bus and a Little Tykes car and gas tank. Kids will also find a train table and full train set, a puppet theater, a dress up trunk with costumes, a grocery stand, a baby doll “nursery” and a builders workshop. A smaller, separate infant space, located next to the nursing area, houses a number of high quality infant toys.

A play costs $4.95 per child and $3.50 for additional children. Steamers offers happy hour pricing from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at $3 per child and $2 per additional child. Parents can also purchase a membership which includes such perks as unlimited open play, priority registration and discounts on classes, and discounts on food and drinks.

Classes such as yoga, music and cooking will be offered in a small classroom by independent instructors who specialize in the topics they teach. The cafe offers a wide selection of coffee drinks by Portland Coffee Roasters, meals and snacks. Sugar and Salt Bakery in Camas provides all of the cafe’s bread and pastries. A variety of fun swag, including books by local authors and handmade items, is available for purchase.

Steamers & Screamers

8400 VanMall Loop Road, Suite 105, Vancouver

360-597-4521  Facebook icon


Regional ‘GO’ Day relocates to Fort

Three park-oriented events will converge as Get Outdoors Day on June 9

Even in the Pacific Northwest, known for its rivers, mountains, forests and of course the Pacific Ocean, most residents still find themselves indoors a large part of every week. National Get Outdoors Day seeks to change that and develop an awareness of the businesses and organizations in each region that encourage an active, outdoor lifestyle.

Vancouver is host to the metro region’s festival, to be held on June 9 at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site’s visitor center. Last year, it was held at the Water Resources Education Center, and this year it is a joint effort of the City of Vancouver, Clark County, the National Park Service, Parks Foundation of Clark County, REI, the U.S. Forest Service and Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation. At press time, additional event supporters/sponsors included Portland Parks and Recreation, Waste Connections, Team Construction, Discover Your Northwest and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

This year, three events will be blended into one full day under the banner of Get Outdoors Day, which will include Northwest National Park Family Day and Brigade Encampment. Everything will be free of charge and open to the public.

Organizers for Get Outdoors Day expect thousands of people that Saturday, as well as a list of participants that will make any kid smile, including Smokey Bear, Ranger Rick and Oregon Caves. Bad Monkey Bikes, and food vendors Vancouver Pizza Company and Ice Cream Renaissance will represent Vancouver, along with Portland’s outdoor gear retailer Next Adventure. REI will offer the grand prize for the day’s contest.

Robin Rose, recreation program manager for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and the Forest Service Regional Office received a small “Service First” grant. It is “seed money to help our new GO Day partnerships grow, get established and succeed,” said Rose. “However, more importantly, it’s a small portion of what it will take to pull off this event. What is really more exciting to me is that all of the partners and participants are coming to the event at their own expense, donating their time, supplies, freebie giveaways, and sometimes prizes to the event, because they all have a common interest in the main goals of the event – connecting with people of all ages and experience levels to the great outdoors and encouraging healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles.”

National Get Outdoors Day 2012:
Your Gateway to the Great Outdoors

Saturday, June 9, 2012, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Visitor Center

1501 Evergreen Blvd. in Vancouver