Workers last week began removing hazardous and invasive trees and shrubs and concrete slabs at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in preparation for construction to increase its accessibility.
The oasis tucked in the city is set to get a visitor parking lot and improvements to East Fifth Street. This effort was a key element of the site’s master plan, which was finalized in 2012, to make the site readily available to the public and tailored toward its increased growth in visitors.
“We want to serve our communities in our region, the nation and visitors who are coming from all over,” Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Superintendent Tracy Fortmann said. “So, this would be the key to doing that.”
A 200-space parking lot will serve as a centralized gathering place at the site. The project also helps create new circulation routes and trails, as well as improves overall safety on Fifth Street. New sidewalks, traffic-calming tools and site lighting are expected to increase walkability and create a safer experience for pedestrians, the site’s facilities manager, Alex Patterson, said.
An aspect of bettering the site’s routes also includes expanding its Fort Vancouver Way and Fifth Street intersection from three lanes to four, he said. Visitors should expect to see a four-week closure at the intersection in March.
Portland-based Westech Construction Inc. is projected to complete the site improvements in September.
The $2.9 million plan is partially funded by a Federal Lands Access Program grant, which prioritizes the development of transportation systems on federal lands. It is also being carried out in collaboration with the city of Vancouver, the Western Federal Lands Highway Division and the National Park Service.
Maintaining the site’s cultural importance was paramount in the preparation of this plan, Fortmann said. It’s a space immersed in history and has been a refuge for birdwatchers, picnickers and walkers who enjoy the solitude. Parents teach their children how to ride a bike on the trails or share stories of the site’s past.
“(It’s our) responsibility to preserve and protect this national park in perpetuity,” Fortmann said.
Fort Vancouver, which was established in 1825, served as a fur-trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Park visitors can walk through buildings re-created in the area, such as a bake house, blacksmith shop and garden to re-imagine what life at the fort was like during its initial operation.
Historic and cultural landscape architects, archaeologists and other specialists determined how to incorporate the parking lot into the land to uphold its historic fabric. An example of this is the designer’s plan to integrate the Hudson’s Bay Company orchard into the new parking area, Fortmann said.
Land bridge repairs
This isn’t the only project in the area to increase the public’s access to Vancouver’s landmarks.
A city-led repair and renovation project for the Confluence Land Bridge is scheduled to be finished in February. The bridge has been closed since fall. Scenic viewpoints, Indigenous imagery and native plants can be seen from this trail that connects the Columbia River Renaissance Trail with Fort Vancouver and the Discovery Historic Loop Trail.