RIDGEFIELD — Messy, muddy expanses of tree stumps and rock piles are not what draw visitors to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, but they’re what’s on display this winter, up in the northern loop of the Oaks to Wetlands Trail.
Just give it time, refuge managers say. Sunlight now penetrating deep into the forest should help restore the indigenous oak woodland that flourished here two centuries ago — before European settlement and fire suppression encouraged Douglas firs to conquer the landscape and crowd out the oaks. Within a few years, refuge managers say, the Oaks to Wetlands landscape should start resembling its name once again.
Meanwhile, ongoing construction is realigning that trail so it’s more compatible with local topography, wildlife and the pounding feet of thousands of visitors every year.
“This is a really exciting opportunity to redo the trail at the same time as the oak restoration,” said Josie Finley, visitor services manager. “We can put to work some best practices about trails and wildlife, and best practices about people.”
Last year, 600 Douglas fir trees were felled and removed from the Oaks to Wetlands area, said Eric Anderson, acting project manager. The job was carefully done by loggers for the Cowlitz Tribe, which wanted the woody debris for a fish-habitat restoration project at Abernathy Creek near Longview, he said.