A model airplane club is scanning the terrain for a new landing spot after several decades at the Port of Camas-Washougal.
The Fern Prairie Modelers have been based at the port for over 30 years. But as the port prepares for industrial development, the club recently found out that its lease will expire in February.
“We’ve just been grateful that they’ve been our host for so many years,” said Steve Carroll, the club’s vice president. “It’s been a great partnership, if you will, and we harbor no ill will toward the port at all.”
One might wonder, “What has a club with ‘Fern Prairie’ in its title been doing in Camas, anyway?’ ”
It was founded in 1981, originally based at the north side of Grove Field airport. But when the airport underwent refurbishments in 1990, the club relocated about 5 miles south of the port.
“So we found ourselves in the same situation that we’re in right now,” said Carroll, who joined the club around that time.
Since then, the club has expanded to include roughly 100 members, ranging from ages 10 to 90.
The club offers free flying lessons to anyone in the community and has trained 170 people to operate model airplanes. It also has hosted and participated in 65 youth-centric events with hundreds of children, works with 12 community groups and supports four local charities.
Club members fly model planes that range from 30 inches to 10 feet from wing tip to wing tip. The hobby includes various activities such as map drawing, building the planes and, of course, flying.
“It takes your mind off of everything else because you’re really concentrated on the flying,” club president Rick Melum said. “But there’s a little bit more than just pushing a stick around.”
Building on the hobby, more than 25 school-age members have pursued aviation careers, including seven who work as airline pilots.
One of them is Matt Winit, now a commercial pilot.
In 1997, Winit was in ninth grade at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. His family had recently moved from Florida, and Winit was searching for a new activity.
While attending a Camas Days parade, he spotted the club’s float, which immediately sparked his interest. He’s been a member in the 23 years since and previously served as the club’s president.
“What I received from the club was invaluable to my future,” Winit said. “It’s great to see the older guys learning from the younger guys and vice-versa. It’s a really incredible group of people we have with the diversity of ages and experience.”
Club members have a few preferred characteristics in a new home.
While they say they’re flexible, it would ideally be located in the east part of the county, where most of the members live. It would also have few overhead obstacles, about 150 to 200 feet of runway space, about five to 12 acres of total space and easy access to the field.
“We’re sniffing on a couple possibilities, but frankly, there’s nothing that looks optimistic at this point,” Carroll said. “We’re an enthusiastic group. We realize that this is an obstacle that we need to get through, and I think there will be a lot of effort made to find a spot for our new home.”