Saturday, January 5, 2013

Northwest Snapshots: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

The Field Trip:  A morning, an afternoon, or a day in the small town of Ridgefield and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge along the banks of the lower Columbia River in southwest Washington.

What's the Draw? The wildlife refuge is one of the few natural areas of wetlands, grasslands, and oak and Douglas-fir forests maintained for wildlife along the river today.  You can spot many species of waterfowl, raptors, painted turtles, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, deer, possibly river otters, and more there. Last week I saw and heard snow geese at the refuge, clumped together in a wetland beyond a row of trees.

Also enjoy the quaint stretch of old downtown Ridgefield and its shops and eateries.

What to Bring:  Bring binoculars for spotting wildlife. If you don't have binocs, go anyway. It's still lovely and bucolic there. If you go to the Carty Unit of the wildlife refuge where I went, the northern unit with walking-only trails, wear boots or shoes that you don't mind getting wet or muddy and a good waterproof jacket during the wet season (any time from October through June).  A field guide or two would be helpful for identifying birds and plants.

What's the History?  Humans have inhabited the site of the wildlife refuge for at least 2,300 years.  The Lewis and Clark expedition stopped here over 200 years ago on their way down and back up the Columbia River, when the site was the village of Cathlapotle. Today the Cathlapotle Plankhouse sits perched above Duck Lake (pictured above).  This replica of a Chinookan western red cedar plankhouse was built in 2005 and is similar to the 14 plankhouses that Lewis and Clark saw when they camped here in 1806.  Today the plankhouse is used for environmental education, resource interpretation, and special events.

Volunteers working on updates to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse
Walking the Trail: At the Carty Unit, walk the 2-mile Oaks to Wetlands loop trail any time of year.  After parking and crossing a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, walk past the plankhouse and continue winding around Duck Pond past big old oak trees.  Smaller trails loop off the main trail into the adjacent woodlands.  You can't get too lost here.  Walk quietly and listen for wildlife.

This big old oak tree is home to hanging moss and fern gardens and tree frogs.

A great blue heron hanging out on the other side of the pond.
Where to Nosh and Shop:  With dark coming early when I visited in late December, I didn't have time to walk the whole loop trail before it got dark. So I made a few stops in town on  my way back to I-5.  The maple nut ice cream cone I got at the Old Liberty Theater, which doubles as a coffee shop, was delicious and made locally in Portland.  Around the corner on Pioneer Street is the Pioneer Street Cafe and Bakery, where they serve excellent meals and divine baked goods.  

On the eastern edge of downtown, the Dancing Rabbit gift shop is the kind of cozy and classy little shop that begs a stop.  I snagged some great earrings for a very reasonable price and picked up a bag of Kristi's sea salt caramel corn, made right in Ridgefield. Yummers.

Downtown Ridgefield
When You Go:  Ridgefield is a few miles west off of I-5 about 20 minutes north of the Columbia River crossing, just north of Vancouver, Washington.  The wildlife refuge day use fee is a mere $3. Here is a link to a map of old Ridgefield.  The wildlife refuge is not well-signed from I-5 until you get right to the refuge turnoff.  To get to the Carty Unit, follow Pioneer Street from I-5, take a right onto Main Street at the end of downtown Ridgefield and continue another mile or two until you see signs for the wildlife refuge on the left side of the road.


Suezy P said...

I love every part of a marsh and wetlands at any season. Thank you for introducing this gem to us. Must visit it this year. Will be in Bainbridge Island in March...will visit the Bloedel Reserve while there...another great introduction.

Sara said...

Hi Jill,

Very nice - I love Ridgfield. Did you see any nutria? There were (unfortunately) lots last time we were there.

John said...

Never stopped here, glad to add it to my list.

Check out Nisqually Wildlife Refuge - there's no longer a nice big loop trail, but the long boardwalk is still something like a 4 mile roundtrip walk. Saw a family of otters last time I was there.

Jill said...

Suezy,enjoy the Bloedel, wonderful place to walk and contemplate.

Jill said...

Thanks for the tip John, haven't been to nisqually for years. Wonderful to see the family of otters!