What are the signature scents of our area? Residents sniff 'em out

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Close your eyes.

Cover your ears.

Breathe in.

As you sniff the air, you're perceiving the world through a method that almost all of Earth's creatures have used for more than 600 million years.

It's the world's oldest sense, and something that even the most primitive bacteria can do.

And it's undeniably attached to memory in a way that seems almost physical.

Clark County is full of scents — good, bad and industrial — that will stay with us throughout our lives.

We asked readers and staff members to tell us which of those smells are most important to them. Here are a few of their observations:

Steve Nelson, Hockinson:

In prior years, Clark County was filled with authentic odors of a productive place. The toasted smell of Great Western Malting was an odd treat. Prune driers processing each fall produced a sweet fruity smell in the air.

The cool interiors of feed stores, like Orchards Feed, still have a hint of the original smell of processed grain, although most is now bagged and shipped from the Midwest. The horse stalls at the Clark County Fair continue to offer the pungent-sweet odor of horse hide and manure, while Lagler's Dairy is one of the last places where both the sharp tang of silage and manure ponds can still be experienced.

Top Burger in Camas is the last bastion for the scent of true quality hamburger and onion rings being fried.

Columbia Vista Corporation is the last place that you can smell that rich sweet odor of green Douglas fir being barked and sawed into lumber — a smell that covered the county 60 years ago. Sweet smells of drying hay have been replaced by lawns being mowed — a poor trade I might say. Lucky Lager is gone, with the smell of hops and malt greeting your return to God's side of the river!

Linda Saunders, Vancouver:

If you drive west on 39th Street and you reach Lincoln Avenue and turn right, you are sometimes met with the aroma of cooking potato chips from the Frito-Lay plant in the Fruit Valley neighborhood. It is heavenly. It reminds me of the first few years I taught school and we would take our third-graders on a field trip to the Frito-Lay plant. The smell in the cooking room was wonderful and the children always enjoyed getting to eat a potato chip, still warm from the cooking oil. The fresh cooked chips were amazing.

Neil Weaver, Battle Ground:

The major smell of my day is the dairy on state Highway 503 south of Brush Prairie. I drive that road twice per day. It always smells different. Sometimes pleasant (for example, during haying season) and sometimes not so pleasant (when the winds are from the east and the manure spreading is close to the road).

Another is the very fresh smell of the East Fork of the Lewis River at Lucia Falls. The mix of the river, the Douglas firs and other trees and shrubs, and the cool wind blowing down the river from the higher hills are very clean and wonderful.

Jane Raabe, West Vancouver:

Years ago, when we lived on the east side of town we got wonderful smells from Camas Paper Mill. I hear it has improved now.

But, now living on the west side of town there are also some wonderful "things in the air."

Down near the Train Depot there is the smell of burnt oil. I don't know how residents of that area stand it!

We live a little bit north of that, and some days we get the wonderful smell of the large Frito-Lay plant, with the wonderful odors of the making (or burning) potato chips. It's not every day, just when the gorge winds are blowing strong.

Lisa Schmidt, Hazel Dell:

My husband Mike and I recently purchased a home that is backed to the new national historic district, 78th Street Heritage Farm. There are great "green" smells: Fresh earth (possibly from the soil being worked for gardens) and fresh grass, along with the smell of pine from the historic trees growing there. Being at 354 feet above sea level, we enjoy a regular breeze distributing our natural surroundings' smells.

Glenna Ainley, Camas:

I was driving home from work (Battle Ground to Camas) with my top down — I have a new Beetle convertible — and was really paying attention to the variety of smells I encountered along the way. Here was what I experienced:

Leaving the Battle Ground (school) district office in Brush Prairie, I first noticed the cow manure smell from our bovine neighbors.

Driving east on 149th/Caples Road, I drove past Prairie Bar & Grill and enjoyed the delicious fried chicken smell.

When I hit 152nd, just north of Padden Parkway, I caught a whiff of just-cut-grass mixed with hay or alfalfa or some kind of straw.

Turning onto Fourth Plain from Ward Road, I began to experience the McDonald's/Burgerville fries odor — greasy, but tempting.

I chose to go the back roads to Camas, so kept on heading east on 500 through farm-like country, with the appropriate manure, grass and occasional exhaust from a passing tractor or truck.

Finally nearing Camas, passing Fern Prairie Market and Grove Air Field, there was a delightful fresh air smell that just screamed "Spring!!"

Since I just live a few blocks from the mill, I sometimes get paper mill smell the last few block to home, but it must have been a "filtered" day because there was no offensive odors to suffer through!

From the staff

Erin Middlewoood, Columbian staff:

The Academy. It has a signature old building smell.

I went to preschool in that building, and every time I go inside and catch a whiff, I'm taken back in time.

The sewer smell along the west end of the Burnt Bridge Creek trail on a hot day.

Dave Kern, Columbian staff:

Memory Lane: I remember passing Lucky Lager and taking in that malty scent. After lunch, it was time to go into Boyd's 88 Center to get candy from the bins. I loved the scent of Brach's Chocolates, so I always bought some; the ones with the orange center, please.

Troy Wayrynen, Columbian staff:

As I come to work, the city of Vancouver's waste water treatment facility near West Mill Plain Boulevard and Thompson Avenue sometimes has a nasty smell. Also, I love the smell of fresh falling rain, especially after it has been dry for a while during the warmer months of the year. Additionally, the smell of Clark College bakery and culinary school, and local pizza joints rock!

Cami Joner, Columbian staff:

The mint fields smell awesome at Fargher Lake and Brush Prairie.2. Then there's the Georgia Pacific Camas Paper Mill — stinky.

All through the winter, the whole county smells like wood smoke because so many people heat their houses with wood-burning stoves.

Lappella restaurant — every time I go to the Grand Central Fred Meyer, I can smell that restaurant. It's all garlicy and buttery. Yum.

When I take my noon walk past Mt. Tabor Brewing, it smells awesome on the days he is cooking the mash.

Gordon Oliver, Columbian staff:

When I was growing up we would always comment on the smell of the then-Crown Zellerbach mill in Camas. Back then, Camas was an industrial town, not a wealthy suburb.

Tom Vogt, Columbian staff:

Truck diesel when you're stopped at a red light at truck-heavy intersections.

Food from the Highway 99 strip in Salmon Creek when you're pulling off I-5 at the 134th exit.

Smoke in North County (i.e. Yacolt) during the winter when homeowners have fired up their wood stoves.

Blossoms at Hulda Klager lilac gardens in Woodland.

Mud along the walkway along the Columbia River.

Did we miss some?