Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Washougal boat launch targeted for closure

Groups rally to keep popular entry point to river

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Harry Barber, left, and Joe Broz of Clark County launch a drift boat at the Three Mile Launch on the Washougal River. The WDFW has proposed closing the site, which is used by fishermen, kayakers, and other recreationists to float the lower 3 miles of the river.
Harry Barber, left, and Joe Broz of Clark County launch a drift boat at the Three Mile Launch on the Washougal River. The WDFW has proposed closing the site, which is used by fishermen, kayakers, and other recreationists to float the lower 3 miles of the river. (Terry Otto/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has plans to close off a popular boat launch and access point on the Washougal River.

Known as the Three Mile launch, the rough boat slide is the only place to launch a drift boat and fully access the lower three miles of the river.

That proposal has anglers and other recreationists seeing red. One of the reasons for the public’s angst is that the department had not made any announcements or posted any warning of the impending action at the site itself.

The proposal came to light when Harry Barber, who lives just downstream of the access point, talked to a sheriff’s officer that was supervising a work crew doing clean up at the site.

“He said they were looking at shutting this thing down, and getting rid of the toilet,” Barber said. “He told me they were going to block off the entrance and make it walk-in only.”

Barber, who has used the slide to launch his drift boat for decades, had not heard about the possible action. He began to make phone calls to the WDFW and others to find out what he could.

Once he determined that there was indeed an effort to close it, he began to contact other anglers he knew who used the site.

The pushback began shortly after that.

Sandra Yonkers of the WDFW wildlife program began to get phone calls from upset fishermen that use the site. She recently explained why the department was looking at shuttering the launch.

“Over the years the site has become a pit stop,” Yonkers said. “We have seen increasing abuse of the land, and in particular the vault toilet.”

“We have had to deal with everything from needles and drug paraphernalia to a lot of human waste where it shouldn’t be put, and there has been a lot of RV’s and campers that dump all of their garbage and wastewater in the toilet.”

“It’s pretty sad,” she added.

Yonkers is also aware that many law-abiding recreationists use the site.

“We also understand the value of the river and how it is used for fishing, and for swimming and kayaking.”

She reported that the department is looking at the removal of the pit toilet, which has become the focal point for much of the abuse.

She also pointed out that the access point never had a launch installed. The public created the rough slide by using it to launch boats over the decades.

Barber, who owns a house on the river about one third of a mile below the site, said it is used heavily, especially in the warm months. He said he often will see as many as 50 people a day when the water is high, floating downstream in inner tubes, kayaks, drift boats, rafts, and more.

“It gets a lot of use,” he said.

As Barber reached out to others, a coalition of stakeholders rallied around keeping it open. These include members of the local chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, (CCA), the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers, the Lower Columbia River Fish Enhancement Group, local fishermen, and more.

Nello Picinich, the executive director of the local CCA chapter, lamented the possible closure of the launch, and wondered if the pushback will be enough to save it.

“Have they already decided that this thing is going away, and didn’t do a proper public process?” asked Picinich. “Nobody knew about it. That’s kind of surprising.”

Yonkers is now trying to gather interested parties, the county, stakeholders and more to get together and look at possible future actions. Should the site be kept open? Should the toilet be replaced by a portable toilet? What other options are there?

Yonkers would like to schedule a meeting so everyone can sit down and discuss the options.

“We wanted to do an outreach with the community and let them know about it, and get their feedback and their point of view,” said Yonkers.

“That’s what we want to talk to folks about, working on this together and trying to find solutions.”

One of the main problems is the vault toilet, which draws much of the vandalism. The door of the toilet is marred by bullet holes.

Another thing to be addressed is the large-scale dumping of trash on the site. To stop this the department was proposing placing a guard-rail across the entrance and making the site walk-in only.

While that might not keep people with rafts or float tubes from launching there, and bank fishermen could still use the site, a guardrail would make it almost impossible to launch a drift boat.

Anglers with drift boats or pontoons use the launch to access the lower three miles of the Washougal River. The next launch downstream would only allow anglers to fish a one-mile section.

Yonkers explained that the department has only two employees that maintain sites such as this one over a six-county area.

Stakeholders appear ready to step up to save the launch.

“We have people willing to donate materials and labor to try to preserve the parking and launching ability,” Barber said.

“We’re looking for a positive solution that makes everybody happy.”

Columbian staff writer