Since moving to Vancouver to retire in 2017, Paul Stasz has been taking walks along the Confluence Land Bridge.
“It was a mess,” Stasz recalled of the pedestrian bridge over state Highway 14 that connects the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to the Columbia River.
Stasz, who worked for a forest products company, described seeing bare dirt in plant beds along the path, as well as unkempt and cluttered trees, some of which had clipped and deadened tops.
But on Saturday, Stasz was more at ease with the state of the path as the sound of scraping shovels filled the air and volunteers scurried around carrying litter and weeds freshly plucked from the ground.
“It’s slowly coming back to being a healthy, urban forest,” he said. He added, “As you can see, it takes a lot of work to do this.”
For the third year, volunteers convened on the Confluence Land Bridge to pull weeds, plant native vegetation, lay down mulch and prune plants as part of an Earth Day event.
Colin Fogarty, the executive director of the nonprofit group Confluence, said that many people may just pass over the wave-like bridge without understanding it’s broader significance. Fogarty’s group seeks to use indigenous voices to connect people to the history, ecology and native cultures of the Columbia River system. The land bridge is located where the Hudson’s Bay Company once stood as an early European trading post in the Pacific Northwest.
Now, the Confluence Land Bridge is one of six art landscapes along the Columbia River system and includes art by Native American artist Lillian Pitt signifying the contributions of indigenous women.
“It’s a very rich asset to this community,” said Fogarty.
Sam Robinson, vice chair of the Chinook Indian Nation, gave a blessing over the work earlier in the day. He explained that the Chinook people used fiddle ferns, cattail shoots, hazel, Oregon White Oak and other native vegetation for culinary and medicinal purposes. He likened the work of volunteers to restocking a kitchen and a medicine cabinet.
Robinson described how Camas, a staple of many Northwest tribe’s diets, is a native plant. But he said it needs to be tended to, not unlike the way volunteers did Saturday.
Fogarty said more than 75 people showed up for this year’s event, which has support from partner organizations including Columbia Credit Union, the city of Vancouver and veterans volunteer group The Mission Continues.
Jim and Mary Altrichter of Vancouver came out with their daughters, Jillian and Alexis, to apply some of their gardening skills to pruning plants along the bridge.
“We walk our dogs over here Saturday and Sunday and we want to have a clean, clear path to walk,” said Jim Altrichter.
Honoring Mother Nature
Ann Reiner drove up from Portland to volunteer and was steadily pulling weeds at the Old Apple Tree Park adjacent to the bridge. She said she likes the mission of the Confluence and how the site recognizes the contributions of indigenous people, as well as how the event drew a wide cross-section of people.
“Anything I can do to support and honor the land and Mother Nature,” Reiner said.