Steigerwald refuge entrance reopens Friday

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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WASHOUGAL — A main entrance of the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge will reopen friday, nearly six months after a wildfire burned close to 150 acres of the natural area near state Highway 14.

The blaze destroyed a boardwalk that carried a 150-foot section of the popular Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail, and forced the closure of the main entrance to the trail off the highway. The fire started on the north end of the refuge near Highway 14, then spread east in high winds and dry conditions. Visitors could still access the 1,049-acre refuge from the south end after the fire.

Refuge staff decided to replace the boardwalk with a gravel walkway after evaluating the cost of a new wooden structure. Tapani Underground provided 36 tons of crushed rock for the project, a donation coordinated by Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, according to the refuge.

The main entrance to the trail will open starting Friday from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The section of the refuge that's currently closed for the winter will remain closed until May 1, managers said.