Evergreen Highway residents seek to forge a new trail

As group raises funds, it looks to Florence Wager for inspiration

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Neighbors who want to convert a narrow strip of land into a miles-long walking path are looking to a longtime proponent of the project for inspiration.

As members of the Old Evergreen Highway Trail Committee move forward with their fundraising efforts for a long-planned trail extending six miles from Vancouver to Camas, they say they're proposing a new name for the path: The Florence B. Wager Trail, in honor of one of the project's top cheerleaders.

But before the project can move forward in earnest — close to two decades after it was first proposed — its backers say they need to bankroll $150,000 in engineering work to determine what exactly needs to be done to build the trail.

"Right now, we need to raise money on behalf of Flossie," neighbor Chris Kellogg said. Standing on the shoulder of Evergreen Highway, where part of the trail is proposed to cut a parallel path, Kellogg said he envisions a trail that complements the historic concrete road that dates to 1920.

It's an idea Wager, known as "Flossie" to her friends, fought for.

Named First Citizen of Clark County in 2009, Wager died in August at age 84. The longtime Clark County resident was a vocal supporter of park projects throughout the county. A safety advocate at heart, Wager wanted to bring walkers and cyclists to the bucolic, semi-wooded area, Kellogg said.

But for the moment, the stretch of Evergreen Highway extending to Ellsworth Road attracts speeders, neighbors say. The area, populated by stately riverfront homes, is unsafe for pedestrians, they say, with nothing but sunken ditches by the side of the road.

Some neighbors say they've even seen cars flipped onto their sides lying in a ditch after an accident. Speed is usually a factor, they say.

"You'd never walk or bike on this road," nearby resident Dode Jackson said. She's also a member of the neighborhood association.

Jackson enjoys walking her dog, Leya, near her home, but she often doesn't feel safe.

The trail would essentially act as a safety measure, she said. In addition to that, it could attract visitors.

To complete the project's design and engineering plans, Kellogg said the trail group needs to raise the money before the end of the year. The six-figure engineering fee would provide project backers with a fixed project estimate they could use as they raise construction funds.

The Old Evergreen Trail currently extends less than three-fourths of a mile from Ellwsorth Road to Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, sandwiched between the Columbia River to the south and Highway 14 to the north.

As proposed, the trail would be constructed in two phases, with the first phase stretching from Wintler Park to Columbia Springs. The second phase would extend from Columbia Springs to Southeast 192nd Avenue.

20 years

In 1991, a group of citizens came together to form a coalition and submit a proposal for a pedestrian and bicycle trail along the road. They were growing more concerned with the increase in traffic and travel speeds along the old highway.

In 2010, the project received a boost. Vancouver received a grant for $925,000 from the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council. The money will be used on the first phase of the project, which will extend the trail from the Weber Arboretum to Ellsworth Road. Funds from the grant will support ground-breaking on the phase in 2013, with completion planned for 2015.

Cheri Martin, executive director of the Parks Foundation of Clark County, said supporters of the project are in an untenable position: They need to raise a large amount of money before they can even plan additional phases of the project.

"It's pretty hard to raise funds unless you know how much you need," Martin said.

For now, Martin said, the coalition is working to "put all its ducks in a row" by raising the money in Wager's name. After all, the coalition's goals are the same as hers, she said.

“She thought everyone should be able to walk on the Old Evergreen Highway,” she said.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com