RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge visitors have walked along winding Main Avenue in a ditch for years to reach the Carty Unit entrance, but that ditch will disappear in the next two months.
Worked started this summer on the Ridgefield Main Avenue Access Improvements Project, a joint project between the refuge, city, Clark County and Federal Highway Administration to make it easier to get from downtown Ridgefield to the refuge.
The project, expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million, will create dedicated bicycle and pedestrian access to the refuge from existing sidewalks near the Ridgefield city limits. It is being funded primarily by the Federal Highway Administration, which will contribute a bit more than $3.1 million. Other contributions for the project also came from the city, county and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region.
Part of Main Avenue will be closed to public traffic near Gee Creek until the project is completed.
“It was a real danger,” Mayor Don Stose said. “Ridgefield is the fastest-growing city in the state, and we want to show all our citizens that we have their safety in mind, especially those with small kids.”
Stose said he thinks the new paths to the refuge will be a big benefit to families who might not feel safe walking on Main Avenue with kids, or know they can’t push a stroller on the more narrow section of the road.
Main Avenue has sidewalks, curbs and lanes 35 feet wide to accommodate bicycles and vehicles in Ridgefield city limits. When the city limits end and it becomes a county road, it narrows to a 22-feet wide, two-lane rural road with no sidewalks and very little shoulder.
“That road was too dangerous for a lot of people to walk,” Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening said. “When people did walk it, you had to be really careful. It’s narrow. It was hazardous.”
Grening is also excited because there will now be a walkable path from downtown to the refuge to the port’s waterfront property and then back to downtown.
“The town will be better connected to the refuge; and then to boot, you get trail connectivity, which is a big priority for the community,” he said.
‘I love that vision’
Connectivity has also been a priority for the Ridgefield City Council, Stose said. He has been on the council for 11 years, and said getting safer access to the refuge has been something that has come up his entire time serving.
“We try to complete 1 mile of trails a year at minimum,” he said. “We’ve met that objective the last several years.”
Marykay Lamoureaux, executive director of Ridgefield Main Street, said she’s in support of anything that’s going to bring people to downtown Ridgefield.
“I love that vision from planners to connect all of our different neighborhoods,” she said.
The new walkway is expected to be finished by Oct. 3. It won’t take long to see if people are interested in using it; Oct. 5 is the 20th annual BirdFest & Bluegrass celebration at the refuge.
Another part of the project was designed with local wildlife in mind. It will also raise part of the road that crosses Gee Creek to allow more water to flow underneath the road. The 10-foot culvert underneath Main Avenue will be replaced with a 40-foot one, allowing more fish to travel through. During heavy rain, it was common for part of Main Avenue to flood due to backup in the creek. The project will build a bridge over the larger culvert and Gee Creek.
“During heavy rain, water backs up and will overtop the roadway,” said Eric Anderson, deputy project leader with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “It was not a safe situation for motorists. They couldn’t see where the side of the road was.”
That’s not the only work being done near the refuge. Earlier this year, work started to replace the bridge crossing Lake River to the River ‘S’S unit of the refuge. That project is a bit more involved, and is expected to wrap up sometime around April.
Also earlier this year, the refuge received a $5.25 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a new community and nature center, with construction expected to start in the spring.