Neighborhoods: They’re where you are

Clark County has zones full of personality

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



Everyone lives in a neighborhood.

And Clark County has all sorts of neighborhoods. Some have official borders, regular meetings, strict rules and lawyers to enforce them; others have history and identity but little unity. Some are busy and some bucolic. New ones are constantly springing to life as the population swells. Old ones fade as they’re overrun.

The Columbian’s Neighbors team carved Clark County into zones to broaden our coverage of neighborhood news. Here’s a sample of history and recent happenings in our neighborhoods:

North Clark County

Views of Mount St. Helens are downright startling up here, where people tend to go for peace and quiet, privacy and nature. Or you can sample the country lifestyle at Pomeroy Living History Farm near Yacolt, and the Cedar Creek Grist Mill east of Woodland. Also fun is chugging across the landscape via the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, an excursion train that offers special events — staged robberies, headless Halloween horsemen, Santa Claus specials — in addition to the spectacular scenery.

Need your own personal lava dome? North county boasts one for sale, cheap: Tumtum Mountain, 360 acres of cone-shaped former logging land, 1,400 feet tall and reduced over the last few years from $1.4 million to $700,000 to $599,900. Interested in a good book? Try Yacolt’s century-old former jail and town hall building, which was converted in 2012 into the Yacolt Library Express, a self-serve library branch.

Ridgefield & Fairgrounds

South of the Ridgefield city limits is the sprawling Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association, which has been at the forefront of bitter growth battles in recent years — from new subdivisions alongside working farms to the arrival of the 18,000-capacity Clark County Amphitheater in 2003. The amphitheater has brought some great shows to town but proved a reliable money-loser anyway. The annual fair in August has scrambled to stay profitable via methods like offering big concert acts at the amphitheater during the fair, and by opening a popular beer and wine garden.

Battle Ground, Meadow Glade & Hockinson

Booming Battle Ground and the creeping edge of Portland-Vancouver suburbia collide with pioneer settlements in this swath of central Clark County countryside. The city has been updating fast, matching new subdivisions and annexations with a skate park, a community center, a medical clinic and other people-friendly infrastructure.

But O’Brady’s Drive-In has been pushed off the expanding road into town, and the beloved Kountry Cafe diner has left Hockinson. Hockinson did gain one-third of a mile of sidewalk, making its downtown a bit more walkable for students heading to school. It was the first sidewalk to appear on these small-town roads.

Grange halls that served as community centers for decades are fighting for survival out here. Check out the old-timey open jam on the second and fourth Saturdays at the Manor Grange.

Hazel Dell, Felida & Salmon Creek

With sprouting subdivisions, shopping centers and tons of traffic, Hazel Dell says “city” more than some parts of Vancouver.

Local leaders who consider the Highway 99 commercial strip a poster child of pedestrian unfriendliness and neon blight have started hatching standards and plans for upgrades. But the hallowed Steakburger diner with its putt-putt golf course, once the target of a redevelopment effort, keeps putting along.

Meanwhile, Salmon Creek’s legendary traffic hairball keeps expanding, with a new freeway overpass, park-and-ride, traffic circle and more. It remains to be seen whether the hairball will really untangle, or just grow hairier. A Walmart has been cleared for construction nearby, around the corner from the growing campus of Washington State University Vancouver — but the slow economy means there’s no telling when the retail supergiant will arrive. On the opposite end of the retail scale, the Salmon Creek Farmers Market has made an impressive go of its obscure location behind a gas station west of I-5 and south of 134th Street, leading organizers to conclude that some people will brave tough traffic for fresh veggies.

At least Hazel Dell has a new place to play: the Luke Jensen Sports Park, named for a young cancer victim and sharing space with King’s Way Christian School on 78th Street.

Orchards, Sifton & Brush Prairie

The name “Orchards” is a reminder of 19th-century fruit trees long since cleared for homes, businesses and mining operations. But the area’s link to the past is evident at the oldest business in the county, the Orchards Feed Mill, open since 1889. Brush Prairie earned a reputation for farming and ranching superiority years ago; now there are lingering plans to build upwards of 1,000 homes in the heart of Clark County’s breadbasket.

A new WinCo supermarket down the road from Prairie High School replaced the old Bowyer’s Par-3 golf course. “I guess it’s progress,” one neighbor remarked.

West Vancouver

Trees are lush, homes are older and well-tended, and sidewalks go places on the west side. Street murals and kiosks keep popping up as a way to build community and slow down speeders. Residents and visitors alike enjoy Uptown Village, Vancouver’s own little corridor of boutique chic, boasting restaurants, cafes and antiques shops.

If you’re into local history, you can take walking tours of the west side’s classy bungalows and wraparound porches, led from the Clark County Historical Museum; if you’re into local food, there’s a “Coop du Jour” tour of urban chicken coops every July. Last year, residents pulled together to protest commercial trucks barreling down West 39th Street — just where Evergreen Habitat for Humanity finished a home built entirely by women.

Central Vancouver

This is the crossroads of the city. All in one trip, you can explore water and wildlife along the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, peruse cars for sale at the Auto Mall, and get your oil changed at Sears.

A stone’s throw south of Skyline Crest, Vancouver’s chief public-housing development, mansions overlook the Columbia River from Old Evergreen Highway. Residents want to name a long-overdue walking path here for the late Florence “Flossie” Wager, a champion of parks and trails.

Historic Vancouver Heights, center of the World War II-era housing boom that shaped the city we know today, won a friendly neighborhood beauty contest in honor of the city’s 150th anniversary. Nearby Harney Heights recently spun off a new neighborhood, Maplewood, to face its own specific downscale challenges: gangs and violence.

East Vancouver

Cascade Park marked the dawn of mega-development in Clark County, with 4,000 houses built on 1,300 acres in the late 1960s and 1970s. Its central artery is McGillivray Boulevard, posted at 25 mph and studded with stop signs but irresistible nonetheless to the lead-footed. The fight to hold down speeds on McGillivray appears to be endless.

Mega-development went even more mega in the 1990s with Fisher’s Landing, where the private community association is king. The opening of Northeast 192nd Avenue has promoted still more development on the city’s eastern edge.

Camas & Washougal

Luxury homes on Prune Hill and Lacamas Shores are stunning examples of Camas’ success in attracting high-paying, high-tech jobs to town. But north across Lacamas Lake, it remains a different world, with Fern Prairie’s farm fields, manufactured homes and public airport grappling with growth.Steep woodlands near the county line conceal the Washougal Motocross Park, which draws 100,000 fans and racers annually up Washougal River Road. Down below, summer swimmers flocking to the Sandy Swimming Hole have been swamping parking lots and both sides of Shepherd Road — leading the city to slow speeds and mark no-parking zones before somebody gets squashed.