Discovery of artifacts delays Ridgefield park work

City waiting to hear if find will further delay construction on welcome center

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A Ridgefield parks project is on hold after archaeological workers discovered pieces of the city’s past buried underneath the proposed site, city officials said.

One month after Portland-based Archaeological Investigations Northwest labeled Overlook Park a “significant site” for Native American artifacts, the Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation have yet to decide whether excavation is warranted or changes to the city’s project design are needed.

The delay is nothing new for Overlook Park, a proposed welcome center and park overlooking the 5,218-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Ridgefield officials had hoped work on the project would begin in early 2011. However, a preliminary analysis on the site by AINW indicated it might hold artifacts. A second evaluation in November determined not only that it holds artifacts used to cook, as well as tools, but it holds lots of them.

AINW submitted its report to state agencies in December. A waiting game has ensued.

“Our goal is to get a response back soon and still go out for bid this spring,” Ridgefield City Manager Justin Clary said last week, adding he hoped “there wouldn’t be major alterations to the design.”

Ridgefield started planning what would become known as Overlook Park a dozen years ago.

In 2000, a Seattle landscape architecture firm recommended the city develop a welcome center to strengthen the tie between its downtown and wildlife refuge.

A decade later, the project moved closer to fruition with a $783,000 grant from the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council. One of the grant’s conditions was construction of a welcome center. The park’s location on state Highway 501 (Pioneer Street) 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. Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge raised $210,000 to buy a 0.75-acre piece of land at the corner of Main Avenue and Pioneer Street, where the plaza would be.

The only digging required for the project would be for restrooms and sewer lines, said Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow in November, noting that those would not disturb the land. It is possible state agencies evaluating the project could forbid digging, Onslow added.

The National Historic Preservation Act required the city to have archaeologists perform an evaluation on the land because the state grant it received came from a federal source.

Archaeologists reviewed Overlook Park for pieces of fire-cracked rock used to cook and also material used as tools by the Chinook, Cowlitz and other tribes, said AINW’s Jo Reese in November. Reese did not return a phone call Friday afternoon.

Officials with the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation were unavailable Friday.

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