Work on Ridgefield park ready to go

Development to help link downtown with wildlife refuge should be done midsummer

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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If the timing works out, Ridgefield's long-awaited Overlook Park will be open just in time for the city's Fourth of July festivities.

Tapani Underground was set to begin construction this weekend on the park, part of a plan to strengthen the city's ties between its downtown and the 5,218-acre Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge.

"It will be a real nice place that we can be proud of, which will service both those who come into the city and those who live in the city," Mayor Ron Onslow said.

Once developed, the park will include historical placards commemorating the Native American and early-settlement history of the site, public restrooms, a stage and kiosks with information about the city.

Chris Huff, co-owner of Pioneer Street Café less than a block from where the new park will take shape, said development of Overlook Park was thrilling. He and a business partner bought the restaurant last December.

"We're really excited about it," Huff said of the park. "Any improvement to Ridgefield's downtown is welcomed."

It's been a plan long in the works. Development of the park will be the culmination of a 13-year strategy for the city. In 2000, a Seattle landscape architecture firm suggested the city build a welcome center to link its downtown and wildlife refuge.

Construction of Overlook Park -- so named because it's situated on a bluff overlooking the wildlife refuge to the south -- was expected to begin in 2011, but the project was put on hold after archaeologists discovered possible Native American artifacts at the site.

Following an on-site investigation, the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the Washington Department of Transportation gave the project the go-ahead over the summer.

Some aspects of the park have been revamped based on recommenda

tions of the investigation. Contractors will not dig as deep as originally planned to place new lights because of concerns that it could disrupt more archeological specimens.

"Generally speaking, we're trying to minimize the amount of excavation going on," Public Works Director Steve Wall said.

Sewer lines will go north instead of west because most of the discovered artifacts were found on the western portion of the property, Wall said.

The archeological investigation tacked an additional $20,000 onto the project. All told, construction of the park is expected to cost around $564,800, the price of Tapani's bid.

Park construction will take place concurrent with a planned series of road improvements to South Main Avenue and Pioneer Street.

The city will spearhead the work on South Main Avenue, reconstructing the road from Pioneer Street to the south end of the park property. That project will turn the avenue into a one-way thoroughfare.

The Port of Ridgefield will work on the reconstruction of Pioneer Street. That will be the first phase of the port's planned overpass that will extend from the bluff over railroad tracks owned by BNSF Railway.

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