WASHOUGAL — For the past 29 years, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge has provided some much-needed respite for migratory waterfowl and concrete-fatigued urbanites alike, but things at the site are far from perfect.
“The lake is kind of a closed system encased in reed canarygrass. There’s not much diversity to its habitat and not much diversity to the wildlife,” said Christopher Lapp, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project leader for the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge complex, which includes Steigerwald Lake.
The refuge, some neighboring organizations and the wildlife that depend on it have historically suffered as consequences of the inadequately engineered water management features at the refuge. Now, plans are being laid to redesign Steigerwald in a way that benefits plants, wildlife and people.
“It’s kind of unusual to have a project with so many benefits,” said Debrah Marriott, executive director of the nonprofit Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.
As currently proposed, the roughly 1,000-acre refuge will have its levee along the Columbia River breached; two new levees built at the east and west ends of the refuge; the Gibbons Creek canal and a diversion structure at the canal removed; two culverts and a road removed; its wetlands expanded and replanted with thousands of native plants; and its nature trails rerouted.