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News / Sports / Outdoors

Columbia River overtops banks, sweeps into restored flood plain

High water closes Captain William Clark Park

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 15, 2022, 6:40pm
2 Photos
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge's flood plain was put to the test this week as heavy rains and mountain runoff inundated the area.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge's flood plain was put to the test this week as heavy rains and mountain runoff inundated the area. (Photo contributed by Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership) Photo Gallery

The lower Columbia River’s long history of flooding was revisited this week when the river overtopped its banks on Monday. Although waters have begun to slowly recede, damage from the flooding remains behind.

Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach was closed Wednesday after the river reached the steps of the park’s south trailhead. County Parks and Lands Manager Rocky Houston said waters had risen above the normal beach area, inundating the restrooms and shelter areas.

“Our understanding is that, today, the water was supposed to crest at the highest level and start to drop. We’ve installed signs and are communicating that due to the high-water event that area is closed,” Houston said. Crews will have to wait for the waters to recede to determine what repairs will be needed.

Several downed trees were spotted in the forested areas near the park.

“We’ll have to do a condition assessment to determine if it’s dry enough for us to get in there with equipment to remove any debris or other things that we need to remove,” Houston said.

Park users are asked not to attempt to go into the park until crews are able to assess any damage and clear the area.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge saw its fair share of flooding as well, although that’s just what the floodplain in the recently completed habitat restoration project is designed to accommodate, said Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership’s Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky.

“With all the stories about flooding in places where we don’t want it, I thought it was fun to see it in a place where it is welcomed,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

Water crested over the refuge’s Bridge No. 3 on Monday. Zimmer-Stucky said water levels had dropped by around 6 inches by Wednesday, but water was still on the bridge. She also said the trail at Gibbons Creek Channel No. 1, just prior to the bridge, remained under several feet of water Wednesday.

“One of the primary goals of the Steigerwald Reconnection Project was to reconnect the floodplain to the river, and this high-water event shows that is exactly what the project accomplished. Not only are floodplains critical for salmon and other native species, but floodplain habitats themselves are enhanced by the exact type of flooding we are seeing this week,” said Chris Collins, restoration program lead for the estuary partnership and Steigerwald Reconnection Project manager.

Collins said the trails and bridges at Steigerwald were designed to withstand high-water events like this.

“Once the Columbia recedes, I invite people to visit the refuge to see the floodplain after this natural and impressive flood,” Collins said.