Paradise Point rangers add new trails at virtually no cost

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Matt Smith knows how to be resourceful. As the park manager at Paradise Point State Park, it’s the nature of his job.

That’s how Smith, with the help of Park Ranger Mark Shaw, recently managed to add almost 2 miles of new trails at the 88-acre park in north Clark County. The addition comes despite a grim funding picture that’s likely to force severe cutbacks and dozens of job losses in the Washington state parks system.

That leaves virtually no dollars for park

improvements or additions. So Smith and Shaw got approval from their bosses, and did the work themselves with no budget. They also hope to establish a disc golf course at the park’s north end — if they can find the money, likely through donations.

“We have all this land here to offer recreation,” Smith said. “That’s our mission ... to protect the resource and offer recreation ... This was a great opportunity to improve what we have.”

The new path follows on an old service road on one end, still framed by deep tire ruts on each side. It meanders through a forested area before entering what had been an unused field covered with tall grass and brush. Smith used a pair of riding lawn mowers to carve out a winding trail that gradually works its way to the top of a ridge, then connects with the park’s campground spaces.

“It cost us next to nothing,” Shaw said. “Fuel and man hours.”

Smith and Shaw walked the trail recently on a cold, crystal clear morning. Thick frost clung to the brush not yet thawed by the December sunshine. By the time they reached the top of the ridge, Mount St. Helens had just barely come into view over a distant treeline.

Smith is hoping visitors’ use will help the trail maintain itself. It won’t require as much work in the cold winter months, and the open area may have to be mowed only a few times per year, he said. Smith also plans to map the trail.

Shaw noted bird watching as one possible draw for visitors. Paradise Point sits between wetlands near La Center and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, making it a prime location to spot winged wildlife passing through.

“You just get flock after flock,” Shaw said. “It’s a surprisingly good place for bird watching.”

Paradise Point’s location right next to Interstate 5 is off-putting to some, but Smith and Shaw said they’re hoping to attract more visitors any way they can. If they can find a way to secure some $5,000 in donations, the two hope to put an 18-hole disc golf course in the park’s north end, near the freeway.

That would give Paradise Point a new attraction, and make it one of only a handful of disc golf courses in Clark County. At this point, Smith said the park and its volunteers are simply looking for the money to purchase needed equipment.

“We’ve got everything mapped out,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of materials and funding.”

Smith said he’d like to get the disc golf course up and running by the time next year’s peak season arrives.

The changes are designed to boost the health of the park, and ultimately help it survive, Shaw said. Paradise Point has seen an uptick in visitors during recent years, according to Smith, which gives it something to build on as parks look for positives in a sea of bad news.

“It all starts with visitors,” Shaw said. “You’ve got to get out support.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.