Off Beat: Inkling of threat saves Columbia canoe brigade from a sprinkling



Some recent overnight forecasts have called for cloudy, with a chance of sprinklers.

Three groups of canoe voyagers camped in Clark County this month while paddling down the Columbia River.

A six-week, 1,050-mile trip that included almost 200 paddlers at different stages took a lot of advance work. Ross MacDonald made various arrangements at about 40 riverside communities — including Vancouver — between Invermere, B.C., and Astoria, Ore.

The David Thompson Columbia River Canoe Brigade spent a lot of nights at parks along the way. MacDonald helped get the permits and do all the paperwork that goes into setting up an instant tent city. Vancouver doesn’t allow overnight camping at Wintler Park, but made an exception for the brigade.

“It was a special circumstance,” said Jilayne Jordan, parks and recreation spokeswoman.

MacDonald also made sure park officials at each site turned off the sprinklers. They learned that lesson when the Brigade got a late-night dousing during a 2007 trip, he said.

Still, the message doesn’t always get through. They got a midnight drenching three weeks ago in their first night in Oregon. Or, as MacDonald referred to the experience, they got irrigated in Irrigon.

“We got up quickly,” said MacDonald, the brigade chairman.

The campers covered a few sprinkler heads with buckets and smothered some of the spray with waterproof voyaging bags. They called the sheriff, who had a phone number for a municipal maintenance worker.

“He showed up an hour later,” MacDonald said.

By then, the campers in the high-spray areas had moved their tents, MacDonald said.

Playing it safe

Members of Warm Springs and Cowlitz tribes avoided a similar experience when they stopped at Vancouver a few days ago. More than 170 people, including members of two tribal canoe teams, camped overnight to celebrate the historic connections between Fort Vancouver and Northwest tribes.

They were joined by several staff members from the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, including Superintendent Tracy Fortmann, who camped with her children.

Participants were dancing, drumming and singing at 10 p.m. when Fortmann learned that the sprinklers were running at the east end of the site. Fortmann and another staffer ran to the operations center and turned off the whole system.

Fortmann said she was assured that the sprinklers wouldn’t have dampened the festivities, but “I felt it was better to be safe than sorry.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.