Whipple Creek Park group fights to protect old mill

Committee asks county to include park in master plan

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Anita Will has worked for years to keep a historic mill near Whipple Creek from tumbling down.

A product of Day Hilborn, perhaps Southwest Washington's most prominent architect of the mid-20th century, the mill is in a rugged state of disrepair. It's getting "hammered" with graffiti, says Will. And despite the work to clean it, the spray paint just has a way of coming back again and again.

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For more information on the group, visit its Facebook page or its website.

"Look, there's more I tried hours to clean," she says, pointing out the muted orange letters on the mill's eastern wall.

The structure has lost its mill look, as well. The water wheel is gone, the roof is caved in and the walls aren't exactly all there.

Bottom line: this old mill needs some work.

So it's a good thing people like Will love it so much. And it really helps that the structure is nestled into the forest enclave of Whipple Creek Park.

The park is a beauty in its own right. A 300-acre forest enclave with miles of trails helping hikers, cyclists and equestrians get lost in spots where the sun can't properly heat the cool air beneath the canopy.

It's a uniquely green part of Clark County's map, and Will knows it.

Earlier this month, she found herself before Clark County commissioners, stumping on behalf of the park and the mill restoration project.

She rattled off the ecological and environmental benefits of the area, how she'd like to see local schools use it for study and research. She talked about the volunteer efforts the Whipple Creek Park Restoration Committee, a nonprofit she is the president of, has undertaken to patch up trails, signs and stream crossings.

And she talked about the old mill, and how it sure would be something to see the water wheel turn again.

"Really, we want to make the mill as safe as possible," Will told commissioners. And the first step to that would be including the effort to restore it in the county's master plan for parks.

Inclusion in the master plan would potentially give the nonprofit restoration committee access to funding sources. It would also identify what areas in the park the group could focus on with the donations it has already received.

Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said the request comes at an intriguing time for the county, as it prepares to discuss in broader strokes its relationship with the city of Vancouver in a joint parks and recreation district.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said he believes the park, and the mill, rank highly in priority for the county in terms of park improvement projects. And while the county's relationship with the city over the parks and recreation district is in limbo, it is likely to become a talking point.

“No doubt about it,” Stuart said as Will campaigned for the importance of the park. “And we will be discussing the next steps.”

Later in the day, Will took a look at the mill as a few folks rode by on horseback. She let out a sigh as she considered that faded orange graffiti. Perhaps planting some thorny plants along this eastern wall will deter the vandals, she thought aloud.

Bottom line, Will is going to keep working on making the mill and the park become as incredible as she believes they can be.

Ridgefield Councilor Sandra Day, also the treasurer of the restoration committee, gives praise to Will for her efforts. And together the two women talk about the great work all the trail users have done. Folks have literally built bridges to make the trails easier to use, they say.

At the closest entrance to the mill, where the road dead ends at Northwest 21st Avenue, a freshly dumped pile of tiny rock sits ready to be spread. The group’s Facebook page says they’re looking to move it soon. And the two women say they’re always happy to have someone interested in lending a helping hand.

“This is a large, large community park,” Day says. “And it’s a huge responsibility.”

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com