Steigerwald refuge partially reopens to the public

Wildfire burned nearly 150 acres this month

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: October 17, 2012, 5:37 PM

 
photoClick to enlarge.

Two weeks after a wildfire burned nearly 150 acres and severed a popular trail, a portion of the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge has reopened to the public.

Visitors can now use the southwest part of the Gibbons Creek Wildlife Trail, but can only reach it from a Columbia River dike access road on the same side of the refuge. The main entrance off of state Highway 14 — near where the fire is believed to have started — remains closed, according to refuge manager Jim Clapp.

Officials made the decision to partially reopen the refuge Tuesday, he said, hoping to give people at least some access to the 1,049-acre natural area. Clapp has said previously scheduled events on the refuge will still be able to proceed.

To reach the southern portion of Steigerwald, visitors can use South 32nd Street through Washougal to reach Index Street, then travel east to a parking lot just past a caretaker’s house, according to the refuge. Walking east along the top of the dike from there will take visitors the rest of the way into the refuge and to the Gibbons Creek trail entrance (on the left).

The walk from the parking lot to the closed portion of the trail is about 3 miles round-trip, Clapp said. Since no loop is available, walkers will have to make an out-and-back trip for now, he said.

On Oct. 5, a fast-moving wildfire, fueled by strong winds, devoured grass, vegetation and wildlife habitat as crews battled the flames overnight. The fire also destroyed a boardwalk that carried the Gibbons Creek trail over a seasonal wetland and through a tunnel of willow trees. That area remains closed.

Refuge leaders hope to secure extra funding for restoration through a federal grant program. But it may be several weeks before refuge officials know the outcome of that application.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.