Possibility of artifacts halts work on Ridgefield park

Native American objects might be in site, officials say




A much-anticipated Ridgefield park project is on hold while archaeologists determine whether pieces of the city’s past are buried in the soil underneath, officials said this week.

City officials expected work to begin earlier this year on Overlook Park, a welcome center and park overlooking the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. However, a preliminary analysis on the site showed it might hold Native American artifacts.

Archaeologists performed a second evaluation of the site two weeks ago and anticipate filing a report on their findings with the Washington State Department of Transportation before Christmas. Workers with Archaeological Investigations Northwest reviewed the site for pieces of fire-cracked rock used to cook and debitage material used as tools by the Chinook, Cowlitz and other tribes, said Jo Reese, AINW’s corporate vice president and senior archaeologist.

“We’re hoping to tell the story of the people who were there and the people who are still there,” the archaeologist said.

There is no timeline for when the state will evaluate the report and decide whether excavation is needed at the site.

City officials are taking the project’s delay in stride. After all, the project needed

nearly a decade before the city landed a high six-figure grant to put it on the verge of coming to fruition.

“It’s part of the history of Ridgefield and we consider it as such,” City Manager Justin Clary said of the potential artifacts.

Overlook Park’s genesis came in 2000 when a Seattle landscape architecture firm suggested the city develop a welcome center to strengthen the tie between its downtown and wildlife refuge. Five years later, the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge finished raising $210,000 to buy a 0.75-acre piece of land at the corner of Main Avenue and Pioneer Street (state Highway 501).

In 2010, the city received a $783,000 grant from the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council. One of the qualifications for the grant was construction of a welcome center. The park’s location on a state highway made it eligible to house a welcome center.

Plans for the park include a plaza at the corner of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue, a stage, a community gathering area, kiosks with information about the city and refuge, public restrooms and areas offering views of the refuge.

“The only digging would be for the restrooms and the lines going to the sewer,” Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said. “There would be no other disturbance to the land.”

Depending on what the AINW report finds, it is possible the city might have to forgo digging on the site, Onslow added.

Since the state grant came from a federal source, the city was obligated under a section of the National Historic Preservation Act to have archaeologists analyze the land, Reese explained.

Ridgefield paid AINW $4,190 for its preliminary work at the site, Clary said. The city signed its most recent contract with AINW for $22,700, he added.

Clary said it was possible the archaeologists’ ability to finish their work in two days earlier this month might mean Ridgefield would pay less on its most recent contract.

Overlook Park is the first city project delayed due to archaeological analysis, Ridgefield officials said. However, such occurrences are not rare.

Clark County has more than 900 historical sites containing Native American or other historical artifacts, Reese said. That number has increased exponentially since various Clark County cities introduced ordinances in the late 1990s protecting such sites.

“Clark County was an area rich in resources,” Reese said, explaining why finds have been so prevalent. “There are lots of prairies and plains that had abundant resources for the people living here.”

It is illegal to dig up public land without going through the proper agency reviews, she reminded county residents.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.