Conservationists are launching plans to restore a 2,000-foot-long section of Campen Creek in Washougal’s Mable Kerr Park, building on successful restoration work at the nearby Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge.
The project will reconnect the creek to its floodplain, expand the park’s wetlands, improve habitat for salmon and lamprey, decrease downstream flood risk, improve public trails and improve water quality within the restored portion of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’re excited about continuing to work in this community and implementing a project that’s going to continue the success of (the Steigerwald Refuge) project,” said Chris Collins of the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. “Obviously, the Steigerwald reconnection project was a big success in and of itself, and we will do everything we can to ensure that that success continues.”
From June 2020 to May 2022, the partnership led an effort to complete the largest habitat-restoration project on the Columbia River to date, creating more than 100 acres of wetland, reforesting 250 acres of riparian habitat, planting more than 500,000 trees and shrubs, reconnecting 965 acres of Columbia River floodplain, and adding 1.1 miles of trails at the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge in Washougal.
Campen Creek is less than a quarter-mile upstream from the refuge and serves as a tributary to Gibbons Creek, which runs through the refuge.
“For us, it’s important to look upstream into the watershed and think about what else we can do to improve the health of Gibbons Creek,” Collins said. “The healthier Gibbons Creek is, the higher likelihood that Steigerwald Refuge will continue to be healthy and that project will continue to be a success.”
The public will also benefit from the project, because the section of Campen Creek to be restored passes through Mable Kerr Park.
“Right now, there’s over 150 dead trees in the park that are standing but at risk of blowing over, and some of them are close enough to the trail where they could blow over onto the trail, so that’s a public safety issue,” he said. “We will remove a good portion of those trees and incorporate them into the restoration as habitat features.”
Collins said the project’s improved trail networks should encourage more visitors to the area.
“I think everyone recognizes that (the park is) already a great place to go and experience nature, but we’ll improve that,” he said. “The trail system will weave around and into some of these restored habitats, and people will get a good look at them, and they’ll also be able to watch them come back to life over the next decade or two.”
The project could start in the summer of 2025 and take roughly two years to complete, according to Collins. It will also add stormwater features to Washougal High School’s parking lot, the largest impervious surface in the creek’s watershed.