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Jan. 28, 2023

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Power walk: Ellen Davis Trail commemorates Vancouver resident, skirts Bonneville complex

By , Columbian staff writer
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8 Photos
The Ellen Davis Trail crosses the grassy lawns of the Bonneville Power Administration's Ross Complex.
The Ellen Davis Trail crosses the grassy lawns of the Bonneville Power Administration's Ross Complex. (Scott Hewitt/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It’s hard for me to resist an unfamiliar trail. Leaving a mysterious way through the woods unexplored feels wrong to me, like I’m ignoring a clue, like I’m shrugging off potentially important news. I can’t stop being curious about what’s around the next bend — even if it’s just another tree.

Fortunately, there’s a profusion of funky little trails all over Clark County. Given the ongoing virus and the need to get outdoors and move, I thought I’d explore a few of Clark County’s more obscure pathways.

The beautiful Salmon Creek and Burnt Bridge Creek greenway trails are rightly popular with many walkers, but even regular Burnt Bridge travelers rarely branch off onto a sister trail that’s sparsely used: the Ellen Davis Trail.

In some ways, that’s for good reason. Online trail reviewers describe the trashy, shady westernmost section of the Ellen Davis Trail as a little scary, and nearby parking at Leverich Park risky. I checked the Leverich parking lot and decided against it, instead heading into the Bonneville Power Administration’s Ross Complex and parked among cars driven by the many users of the fenced dog park there.

From the Ross Complex, most of the 2-mile trail is to your east and that shorter, iffier section to your west. You could skip that part unless you’re coming from that direction or, like me, you want to get the whole picture. The partially paved, partially crushed gravel trail is open to pedestrians and cyclists.

From Ross I walked back down to the western trailhead, near the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 5. If you’re coming down from that bridge, take your first right, walk past the pond, then your first left, where the Ellen Davis Trail leaves the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail.

Davis and Cannard

“If you want a workout, walk my trail,” states a 2003 memorial here to Ellen Davis, who died in 1999 at age 95. She lived nearby and walked daily. She was an environmental advocate active in the Chinook Trail Association and Vancouver Audubon Society.

A little past her memorial is the Ellen Davis Bridge and Friendship Bench. Both of them look a little friendless right now, and could use some graffiti relief.

This rundown section of the trail gives way to the steep rise and switchback where Ellen Davis must have gotten her workouts. The switchback is a good place to remember trail creator Don Cannard, one of Davis’ neighbors.

Cannard, a founder of the Chinook Trail Association and a dedicated volunteer on many local trail projects, said he worked to create the Ellen Davis Trail after being approached by exercise-hungry staffers at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Ross Complex.

Cannard accomplished his goal by raising private money, according to former Vancouver trails manager Kelly Punteney.

“He was an amazing, resourceful guy,” Punteney said. “He worked his tail off to make it happen. He was close to the parks department and when he talked, we listened.”

Cannard died in 2018. His dedication to the Ellen Davis trail made this newspaper as recently as 2016, when he cobbled together $16,000 in grants to install crosshatch-pattern pavers along this steepest, most erosion-prone section.

This switchback carries the trail out of the woods and into the grassy Ross Complex, a regional distribution hub for Bonneville Power Administration hydropower. After a short two-track dirt connection, the paved trail heads east past a no-trespassing zone full of impressively complicated, humming equipment.

You’ll notice frolicking dogs in the distance. Not only is the Ross Complex a regional power node, its 250 acres also house the community-maintained Ike Dog park. Proceed east along Ross Street to get closer. If watching happy dogs makes you happy, you’re in the right place.

Zigzag to go straight

The grassy trail bends northeast, rambles downhill and turns left on 22nd Avenue. A short walk down a dirt road — behind the Ross Complex on your left and a few homes on your right — leads to a second switchback segment.

This is the oddest piece of the trail: eight switchbacks, complete with handrails and those same cross-hatch-patterned concrete pavers. These too are thanks to Don Cannard, Punteney said.

At the top you’ll find another bench honoring Ellen Davis. Like the first bench, it could use some love.

Now you’re entering a tall, shady grove of Doug firs and cedars. The primitive path meanders alongside power lines and the sad dead-end trail access at 59th Street, another place you wouldn’t want to park.

After that, the trail is a straight stroll east through this strip of urban forest, ending at St. James Road, where there is a bus stop and on-street parking. Where the forest path splits, the upper way stays shady and restful while the lower displays sprawling views of Ross’ eastern equipment yards. There’s a lot more to Ross than most casual visitors probably imagine.

The Ellen Davis Trail is not the most beautiful trail. But it offers many interesting views of Vancouver’s powerful connection with the rest of the Northwest.

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