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Clark Asks: Why is Horseshoe Lake in both Clark and Cowlitz counties?

Construction of I-5, Lewis River migration play role in placement

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:
5 Photos
Matt and Fran Gray of La Center keep in step with their dog, Riley, during a lunchtime stroll Nov. 20 at Horseshoe Lake Park in Woodland. The lake is located in both Clark and Cowlitz counties. It used to be part of the Lewis River but was cut off from the waterway when Highway 99, now Interstate 5, was constructed.
Matt and Fran Gray of La Center keep in step with their dog, Riley, during a lunchtime stroll Nov. 20 at Horseshoe Lake Park in Woodland. The lake is located in both Clark and Cowlitz counties. It used to be part of the Lewis River but was cut off from the waterway when Highway 99, now Interstate 5, was constructed. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Larry Kingsbury’s son decided to go kayaking at Horseshoe Lake in Woodland last summer, a quick online search of the popular recreation area uncovered a tidbit that struck the Clark County resident as an anomaly.

From the maps he found, it appeared that the outside of the lake is located in Cowlitz County while the inside of it is in Clark County.

Kingsbury wondered why and shared it as part of The Columbian’s Clark Asks series, where readers suggest news stories and vote on which should be covered.

“I’ve ridden up and down the Lewis River. Water always gives a different perspective, kind of like riding on a train. But I never considered the weird boundary (of Horseshoe Lake) before looking it up,” Kingsbury said.

Horseshoe Lake is located on the Cowlitz-Clark counties line, with 3 miles of shoreline, including Horseshoe Lake Park.

From a bird’s-eye view of a map, the lake has an unusual shape. It’s very much a finely crafted horseshoe.

The southern city limits of Woodland sit between the Clark and Cowlitz counties boundary line, and part of the Lewis River meanders throughout the counties within the city limits. The boundary line follows the center of the river, though not perfectly anymore due to erosion and accretion, said Travis Goddard, city of Woodland Community Development director.

Horseshoe Lake was once a part of the river, but in 1940, a curve in the river was cut off during the construction of Highway 99, now Interstate 5, forming the oxbow-shaped lake, said Tracy Coleman, Woodland’s Public Works director.

For the most part, half of the lake’s water lies in Clark and half lies in Cowlitz, Goddard said. The county boundary has not changed, but the river has migrated in spots. Island Aire Drive and north belong to our neighbors; the rest of the island in the middle of the lake is and always has been in Clark County, Coleman said.

It’s unlikely the river would be rerouted if the freeway were built today, due to the state’s Shoreline Management Act, adopted by voters in 1972, and other changes in law at the national level that protect natural water features such as large lakes and rivers, Goddard said. What’s more likely is three separate bridges would be built, to extend over what is now Horseshoe Lake and the slight, westward curve in the Lewis River directly south of the lake.

“Back then, engineers decided not to build extra bridges. They simply sent the river along a different route, which likely wouldn’t happen in today’s environment,” Goddard said.

The lake still keeps a connection to its origin, however. A pumping station — located at the Woodland State Airport, a lighted and paved 1,953-foot asphalt strip that runs between the freeway and Lewis River — pushes fresh water into the north end of Horseshoe Lake. At the southeast end of the lake, the water goes through a pipe and back into the Lewis River.

“There are currently talks about replacing that little green pump house so that they can better supply freshwater to the lake and prevent stagnation,” Goddard said.

The lake is a popular spot to relax and fish. It has a year-round open fishing season and is stocked with catchable-size rainbow trout, plus some larger rainbow broodstock, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The lake also supports populations of largemouth bass and a few other warm water fish. There’s also a public boat launch.

The lake and its park are the heart of the city’s intersections, with Lewis River Road to the east and people coming and going along the freeway. Goddard said that although the city has a population of about 6,300, data has indicated that it regularly serves significantly more people due to its location — as many as 40,000.

“As such, the lake is more a regional facility than strictly a city facility,” Goddard said.

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