Prescription: Take a walk at Fort Vancouver

Program encourages visitors to stroll trails, enjoy benefits to mind, body and spirit

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Taking a walk at Fort Vancouver

• LEVEL 1 (15 minutes or less, minimal elevation change)
Officers Row: 0.8 miles roundtrip,  22 structures built between 1849 and 1907
Spruce Mill Trail: 0.6 miles roundtrip, World War I mill produced aviation-grade lumber
Columbia riverfront: 1.2 miles roundtrip, Columbia River was and is a vital trade route

• LEVEL 2 (30 minutes or less, elevation change less than 20 feet)
Land Bridge Trail: 1.0 miles roundtrip, Inspired by Maya Lin (with path to workers village)

• LEVEL 3 (30 to 90 minutes; elevation change up to 50 feet)
Parade Ground Loop: 1.0 miles roundtrip, Century-old infantry barracks on south side
East Barracks Loop: 1.0 miles roundtrip, Legacy of 160 years as a U.S. Army post
Lower River Road: 0.6 miles roundtrip, Once connected fort entrance with river
Great Meadow Loop: 1.5 miles roundtrip, From Officers Row to East Fifth Street
Discovery Trail: 3.0 miles roundtrip, Loop skirts the east end of Pearson Field

• Trail maps:

• Accessibility: Parade Ground, East Vancouver Barracks, Lower River Road and Discovery trails are not wheelchair accessible.

• Public restrooms/water fountains: at Visitor Center, Pearson Air Museum and reconstructed fort during operating hours.

Back when Dr. John McLoughlin’s word was law at Fort Vancouver, some Hudson’s Bay employees trekked all over the Pacific Northwest.

These days at Fort Vancouver, a 30-minute walk can be just what the doctor ordered.

That’s the idea behind the National Park Prescription Program. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is among the national parks teaming with health care providers in the exercise program.

“The idea is to get people into the park and utilizing the trails,” said Aaron Porter, a Fort Vancouver volunteer. In addition to the physical exercise, “there are a lot of benefits — mental and emotional — to being in nature.”

“It’s usually my first prescription for people who come in stressed and feeling blue,” said Dr. Mike Wilmington, a pediatrician at Kaiser’s Salmon Creek medical office.

During a walk, Wilmington noted, “you smile at people and people smile back.”

That can actually give you a boost, he said.

Wilmington and Porter were among the participants when the project had its official launch with Saturday’s Walk with a Doc event at Fort Vancouver.

Acting Chief Ranger Bob Cromwell led the 0.6-mile walk around the Spruce Mill Trail, revealing the history of the site between the reconstructed Fort Vancouver stockade and Pearson Air Museum.

Fort Vancouver has formally designated 10 trails, including many that feature Hudson’s Bay Neighborhood landmarks such as Officers Row, the Pearson Field airport and the Vancouver Land Bridge.

Free copies of the map and trail guide are available at the Visitor Center, 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd.; Pearson Air Museum, 1115 E. Fifth St.; and Fort Vancouver, 1001 E. Fifth St.

But the program is not about scheduled events. Visitors are encouraged to, well, walk at their leisure. And that is one of the reasons behind the map and trail guide.

People often can be seen walking around the Vancouver Barracks-Fort Vancouver campus. But the Fort Vancouver staff wants members of the public to know that they are not merely tolerated, but actually invited, said park ranger Bobby Gutierrez.

On the map, “we have identified benches, exhibits, bus stops and elevation changes,” Gutierrez said.

For decades, the site was off-limits as a U.S. Army base. And now, Gutierrez said, “we’re letting people know what’s here.”

There is an admission charge to enter the replica fort stockade, but all the other features and attractions at the national historic site are free.