Portrait special section: Clark County constantly changing, growing

Options to live, work, learn and play continue to expand

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Click here to visit The Columbian's Portrait section online.

Maybe you're new to Clark County, and you'll be surprised to learn Fargher Lake doesn't have any water.

Or maybe you're a townie like me, who used to consider "east Vancouver" as the intersection of Mill Plain Boulevard and Chkalov Drive, and you need to be reminded of how much the city has grown.

Either way, turn to The Columbian's annual Portrait section, a compilation of stories about ways we live, learn, work and play. You can find it online beginning today.

In some ways, it feels like nothing changes. I vividly remember standing, 39 weeks pregnant, for a lengthy outdoor press conference where elected officials took turns hailing the fact a key committee had recommended a federal courthouse be built in Vancouver.

I gave birth two weeks later, and my baby is now in first grade. There's still no word on funding for a federal courthouse, and people from Clark County still need to travel approximately 130 miles to Tacoma, home to the nearest federal courthouse within the Western Washington District.

I also remember my parents taking me and my brother to walk on the Glenn Jackson Bridge in 1982 for the celebration of its opening. I wonder if my husband and I will ever take our children to celebrate the opening of a new Interstate 5 bridge. Maybe our grandchildren?

In 1999, The Columbian first reported plans for a Cowlitz casino west of La Center, and that controversial idea remains tied up in the legal system.

(A fun ongoing debate in the newsroom: What will you be able to do first? Ride light rail from Vancouver to Portland, or play slots at a Cowlitz casino?)

But of course a lot has changed in our county, thanks to explosive population growth -- 45 percent in the 1990s, which "slowed" to 23 percent the following decade.

When I graduated from Fort Vancouver High School, there were five high schools between the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts, plus one alternative high school. Now, as you'll see in our list of schools, there's nine high schools between the two districts and two alternative high schools.

You'll also find an article about the bottomed-out housing market by business reporter Cami Joner, who says 2012 was the year it "sputtered" back to life.

That will no doubt be of interest to anyone who has bought or sold residential real estate in the past several years or who are considering buying or selling. When my husband and I bought our first home in 2003, we paid $158,000. We sold it four years later for $245,000, then paid $250,000 for a home currently valued at $157,000. Sound familiar?

Schools and housing are just two examples of stories about how we learn and live.

For how we work, you'll find, among other topics, a list of the county's largest employers and other local trivia.

For how we play, take advantage of longtime outdoor reporter Allen Thomas' wealth of knowledge -- we call him "Woodsy" -- and check out his suggestions for ways to spend your free time, including scenic hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Clark County has a lot to offer. Enjoy our way to help you take it all in.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com