'Water trail' idea gets tentative launch

Discussion has not yet reached issue of money

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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The water trail plan is available on the parks and recreation website.

photoNearly 40 people took part in a guided kayak tour of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge as part of Birdfest in October of 2008.

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Clark County commissioners, and a few local mayors, like the idea of creating a unique "water trail" to usher kayaks and canoes along the county's waterways. They just don't like it so much they're throwing cash behind the project.

That's not to say the finances won't change. At a meeting this month between the county and the cities of La Center, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Woodland, the region's leading lights mulled the idea of putting financial backing behind a proposed water trail for paddlers.

"The question for all of you: Is there a call to action?" asked Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation planner Jean Akers.

Akers presented the "Lewis River-Vancouver Lake Water Trail Plan," outlining how to create a 32-mile navigable route from the North Fork Lewis River in Woodland to Vancouver Lake.

Running along existing county waterways, the trail obviously won't need to be groomed much. But the plan does recommend more than 30 improvements to water access points. Some suggestions, such as Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades and possible land acquisitions, could come at quite a cost.

"Part of what we are suggesting is that each entity needs to look at their access sites and decide what you have to do to fix them," Akers said. "This was really a way to raise awareness of the project and to identify the needs. The next step could be to have the jurisdictions collaborate."

Collaboration is exactly what Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt suggested toward the end of the meeting.

"One of the first steps is having consistent signs between us," Boldt said. The trail recommends low-impact signs be placed along waterways, directing paddlers along the trail. "At least, for me, that would be something to begin on."

And with no money on the table for something more substantial, Akers said that is a good start. She said she hopes to begin studying the sign costs and requirements over the coming months.

Still, other regions appear more excited to get a project going. Seeing the water trail as a potential economic boost to his community, Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said he might be interested in investing in the trail as soon as the upcoming budget cycle.

"If there is money we need to put in, it would be nice to know that now," Onslow said, adding that the Ridgefield City Council is preparing to enter the budget process.

Ridgefield could become one of the primary launch sites for such a trail, and if people travel from outside the area to use it, they could bring tourism dollars.

Gail Alexander, co-owner of Ridgefield Kayak, which rents out watercraft, said she would be happy to see more paddlers on the water, but she's looking beyond the dollars and cents.

"My reasons to have gotten in to this business, and to do the work I am doing, is not with the thought of eco-tourism in mind," Alexander said. "I suppose if I was a business major I would have thought of that, but for me the water trail offers restorative recreation. It connects the community and the wildlife component. But I'm sure that it could be (an economic benefit). I mean, when you think about the fact that the majority of people love our natural environment, and we just don't get enough of it."