Cathlapotle opens for the season

Plankhouse teaches visitors about role of Chinookan people

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



If You Go

 What: Spring opening of Cathlapotle Plankhouse.

• When: Noon to 4 p.m., Sunday.

 Where: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, 28908 N.W. Main Ave., Ridgefield.

 Cost: Refuge parking is $3 per vehicle.

• Information:

Sunday’s Schedule

• Noon to 4 p.m. — First Foods display: Springtime foods of Chinookan peoples at hands-on stations throughout the plankhouse, and samples of stinging nettle tea.

• Noon to 4 p.m. — Plankhouse tours: Tour the plankhouse on your own or with experienced volunteer guides; children’s activities will be available.

 1 p.m. — Family hike: Join a naturalist on the trail to see wildlife living at the refuge; the hourlong walk starts at the plankhouse, and is geared toward families.

 3 p.m. — Spring birding hike: Two-hour walk will focus on bird language as well as visual and auditory identification of common spring birds. Be prepared for a 2-mile hike on moderately uneven terrain; meet at the plankhouse.

Season Schedule

All Sunday events run from noon to 4 p.m. Each event includes a special presentation, walks guided by naturalists and hands-on children’s activities.

 Sunday: Spring opening, with Chinookan springtime foods.

• May 14: Mother’s Day celebration.

• June 11: “Colonizing” native history.

 July 9: Oak appreciation.

• Aug. 13: Traditional technologies.

• Sept. 10: Traditional ecological knowledge and climate change.

• Oct. 7-8: BirdFest and Bluegrass Festival and season-closing salmon bake.

When the Cathlapotle Plankhouse season opens Sunday, visitors will be introduced to people who have been in the neighborhood for a while.

The plankhouse represents the heritage of the people who occupied the Cathlapotle area for about 15,000 years.

The goal of the Plankhouse Project is to engage the public with the culture of those previous residents, said Sarah Hill, Cathlapotle Plankhouse director. “It’s important to know whose land we’re living in. We’re all living in Chinookan land.”

“We’re not living in the same ways,” she observed, “but the legacy of Chinookan people before contact (with white explorers and traders) is still seen. The plants and animals and ecosystems we all enjoy are a direct result of land management and lots of time and connections by indigenous Chinookan people over 15,000 years.”

Aspects of that legacy will be celebrated with seven monthly events scheduled through October at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The programs, most on the second Sunday, will feature speakers, special presentations, guided hikes and children’s activities.

“The purpose is to connect with the natural resources and culture of the lower Columbia River — especially at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge,” Hill said.

The plankhouse also will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. during the 2017 season.

Celebration of foods

Sunday’s noon-to-4 p.m. kickoff will include a celebration of springtime foods of Chinookan peoples, illustrating the seasonal cycle they lived by. Visitors will be able to explore some of these foods inside the plankhouse. They also can sample stinging nettle tea throughout the day.

“The stinging nettle is a culturally important plant for indigenous people all over the Pacific Northwest,” Hill explained. “A lot of people use the tea to treat hay fever. It’s thought of as a springtime tonic. Also, it’s just tasty. It has a lot of different vitamins and minerals, although it is a diuretic.”

In the fall, the stinging nettle is gathered for fibers. “The stalks produce a very strong fiber used to make fishing lines and nets,” Hill said.

Two guided hikes will be led by wildlife refuge naturalists: a family-friendly hike featuring oak trees and wildlife, and a bird-spotting hike for birders of all levels.

Guided tours

There also will be guided tours of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. Built in 2005, it is 78 feet long, 37 feet wide and 20 feet high at the roof peak. And that’s not exceptionally big, by historical standards. Archaeologists who excavated the original site found several plankhouse sites, ranging from 40 to 200 feet long.

While the builders used some modern tools, they followed a traditional design. And they don’t call it a replica: It’s the newest plankhouse, not a reproduction.

It was not built over the remains of the Cathlapotle village, which still has archaeological significance and is a protected site.

And the waters of the Columbia River have meandered since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first visited the village in 1805. (Clark’s journal entry referred to it as “Quathlapotle nation.”) So, the current plankhouse site is a better example of the old village’s riverbank setting. It’s also on higher ground and less susceptible to flooding.

The plankhouse program is a joint effort among several groups, including the Chinook Indian Nation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland State University and the nonprofit Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.