Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Quell cabin fever at Clark County parks

These parks offer free or very low-cost ways to be together while staying 6 feet apart

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
11 Photos
Judy Byron of Washougal takes a morning hike at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 2019.
Judy Byron of Washougal takes a morning hike at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 2019. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Of all the desperate social-distancing measures we’re being driven to these days, here’s the most extreme of all: Go outside and play.


“No hugs, but we can talk and hike and touch the trees,” said Jueleen Provstgaard, a downtown Vancouver resident, who was waiting Wednesday morning for several young relatives to join her at Whipple Creek Park, west of the Clark County Fairgrounds. Meanwhile she meandered the trailhead with her bulldog, Miss Poppy.

“We’ll all go on a trot through the woods and have fun being together without being jerks,” she said, referring to people who don’t bother maintaining 6 feet of social distance during this nationwide COVID-19 outbreak.

That crisis has not prevented people from escaping outdoors to enjoy the beautiful weather. Never forget that the great outdoors remain extremely spacious, offering lots of room for keeping people at arm’s length while still enjoying their company. Despite inflation, the price of great-outdoors attendance remains extremely affordable — free, in fact, except for the fuel it takes to get there plus the occasional nominal parking or admission fee.

Now for the sobering footnotes: Continue to maintain 6 feet of social distance with nonfamily members — and don’t touch the playground equipment.

Find a park

There are hundreds of parks, trails and paved paths in Clark County and its municipalities. For a searchable index of all local parks and their amenities, visit and scroll down to “Find a Park or Trail.”

Health experts recommend staying away from playgrounds

The Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center advises that people should “avoid public playground structures, which aren’t cleaned regularly and can spread the virus.”

“A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic or stainless steel. … There’s a lot we still don’t know, such as how different conditions, such as exposure to sunlight, heat or cold can affect these survival times,” according to the Harvard website.

Indoor play dates are not a good idea, Harvard warns, but outdoor play dates with children capable of following 6-foot social-distancing rules are a reasonable compromise. Bike rides, hikes and other shared outdoor activities that bring people together while keeping them safely apart get the provisional OK — as long as you follow the rules of the new world we’re all living in.

Parents will have to make that call for their children.

— The Columbian

“We are seeing a lot of increased traffic to parks, which we would normally absolutely love,” Clark County Parks spokeswoman Magan Reed said. “But we are seeing people not following social-distancing guidelines, not even close. We’re not having conversations about shutting down the parks, but we are talking to the city about a huge social media campaign — a joint campaign to remind people, you really should follow the social-distancing guidelines.”

Park bathrooms and other facilities are usually cleaned every day, she said, but “we can’t guarantee a sanitizing schedule. It’s best if people don’t touch playgrounds and other facilities. I certainly wouldn’t let my kids.”

So, be careful but don’t forget to have fun. Try leaving your phone behind and bringing binoculars instead. If you’d rather hang out than hike, bring a chair and a book or craft project. Never underestimate the peace and relief that may come from simply enveloping yourself in greenery; in fact, science keeps reaffirming that getting close to nature is great for people’s moods and immune systems.

Green and hopeful

All Clark County residents should explore the sprawling Fort Vancouver National Site, where history and greenery share just the kind of warm embrace we’re all avoiding now. At 366 rolling acres and a pedestrian connection to the Waterfront Renaissance Trail via the artistic Confluence Land Bridge, the fort campus has been called “a green jewel in the heart of the city.”

Now add in the new Waterfront Vancouver development that’s risen to the west. Even while the swanky restaurants there are temporarily closed, a stroll through that scene is guaranteed to impress, filling your senses with a scene that’s clean, bright and hopeful.

If you need paved trails, Clark County’s best are the verdant Salmon Creek Greenway Trail (off Northeast 117th Street) and the urban Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail (numerous points of entry in west and central Vancouver).

Those are only the most popular of Clark County’s outdoor attractions; following are a smattering of less-obvious local parks and trails where you can take up lots of space while taking in beautiful sights, fresh air and (with luck) sunshine. There’s never been a better time than right now.

Washougal waterfront. Vancouver’s not the only town with riverside awesomeness on the rise. The waterfront zone around the Port of Camas-Washougal features several interconnected trails and parks, notably the new outdoor Natural Play Area boasting a 9-foot-tall Sasquatch — which you’ll have to admire from a distance for now. It’s also got the spiffy new Black Pearl events center to admire from the outside.

Columbia River Dike Trail. A little east of the port is Steamboat Landing and this gravel-surfaced waterfront way. It stretches 3 miles farther east, all the way through Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach to the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts its own walking trails through gorgeous wetlands and woodlands. The Dike Trail has numerous points of entry. Try parking at Pendleton Way and walking through the pedestrian tunnel below state Highway 14 to Steamboat Landing. Or try Steigerwald’s own small parking area at the far-east edge of Washougal, off the highway.

Campen Creek Greenway. Washougal parks manager Suzanne Grover recommends this out-of-the-way trail, which is short, pretty and accessible via Campen Creek Park. Try 42nd and R streets or 49th and W streets, Grover said. Please keep your dog leashed, because there is wildlife around.

The lakes of Camas. Long, thin, idyllic Lacamas Lake makes for sweet sightseeing. A 3.5-mile gravel trail hugs the southwest side of the lake between parking areas at Goodwin Road and Heritage Park (where the lodge and conference center are closed). Below and east of Lacamas Lake, across Everett Street, are Round Lake and Lacamas Regional Park, with crisscrossing walking paths and the flower fields that gave Camas its name.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of diverse acres in two zones, just north and just south of downtown: the hikable northern Carty Unit and the auto-tourable southern River “S” Unit (which will be closed because of construction, not disease, several days in late March). A new pedestrian connection linking downtown and Carty lets hardy locals walk all the way there and back, leaving cars behind. Check out the new trail network and the oak-restoration project that’s transforming the Carty landscape. All parking fees have been canceled for now.

Lewisville Regional Park. A shady, forested oasis created by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, it’s often considered Clark County’s flagship park. Enjoy the thick greenery and the East Fork Lewis River, but stay away from the playgrounds. Take Lewisville Highway north out of Battle Ground. Nominal parking fee.

Whipple Creek Park. Put on your boots because it can get gloppy, and don’t be surprised if you encounter mountain bikers or horseback riders atop their steeds. Sprawling and thickly forested, Whipple Creek Park offers a tangle of gravel and primitive trails west of the Clark County Fairgrounds. If you feel like getting lost without really getting lost, this is the undeveloped park for you. Gravel parking lot on Northwest 21st Avenue off 179th Street.

North county falls. Near Yacolt and linked by a 2.5-mile gravel trail are Lucia Falls Park and Moulton Falls Park. It’s a shady, thickly forested area featuring three waterfalls, a towering arch bridge, primitive side trails, volcanic rock formations and historic Native American meeting grounds. North of Battle Ground; take Northwest Lucia Falls Road.

La Center Bottoms. A hidden gem for birders. The paved trail gives way to gravel, which gives way to grass; it hugs a 314-acre county-owned “wet-meadow wetland” surrounded by upland forests. It’s one of the county’s few state-designated “Watchable Wildlife” sites, and features several viewing blinds. Just next door is Timmen’s Landing, an historic Lewis River site where riverboat traffic once ran regularly. Park at Sternwheeler Park in downtown La Center.

Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park. A lengthy riverside beach, complete with volleyball facilities, park benches and picnic shelters. A paved 3.2-mile path that’s much beloved by cyclists connects Frenchman’s Bar with Vancouver Lake. Take Lower River Road west out of downtown, and bear left at the elbow. Parking fee.

There’s no better place than Frenchman’s Bar to get a close-up view of the huge cargo ships that traverse the Columbia River.