Steigerwald manager seeks funding to replace boardwalk

Refuge recovers

Wilson Cady, environmental education coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, views the damage to the Steigerwald refuge boardwalk. While 148 acres burned, approximately 20,000 shrubs and trees survived. “Wildlife is coming back,” Cady said Friday, as American goldfinches flew overhead. He also spotted fresh mounds of dirt as evidence of recent mole activity. Buy this photo

The Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge remains closed to the public, primarily because the boardwalk entrance is heavily damaged.

The Oct. 5 grass and brush fire damaged 148 acres at the refuge.

Refuge Manager Jim Clapp is applying for $100,000 for burn area restoration from the Department of the Interior. It could take four to six weeks to find out if the funding is approved.

The boardwalk will need to be replaced before the refuge can be reopened.

“I don’t know how long it will take to replace it,” Clapp said by phone Monday. “We’ll do our best to get the refuge reopened soon.”

The fire, believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, remains under investigation by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Wilson Cady, environmental education coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, described the fire as “gut-wrenching, to put it mildly.”

He was among the volunteers who answered questions and helped direct traffic during the weekend after the fire.

Cady said people showed up, hoping to hike or find the cigarette butt to help with the investigation.

“We tried to discourage people from entering the burnt area or disturbing evidence,” Cady said. “I was surprised by the number of people who showed up to walk the trail. We just directed them to Capt. William Clark Park and the Dike Trail, which is still open.”

Some forms of wildlife — including rabbits, raccoons, deer, opossums a coyote, and a bobcat — have been seen in the 1,049 acre-refuge since the fire.

“Coyotes are out there all of the time, but the cougar that was seen by firefighters was probably just passing through while hunting deer, rabbits, etcetera,” Cady said. “Many of the smaller creatures probably went into burrows underground and were unaffected by the fire, other than the loss of habitat.

“If there were any dead animals, predators would have eaten them by now,” he added.

The restrooms and informational kiosk remain untouched by the fire.

Nearby, blades of grass poke through the burnt brush.

“Next spring, you won’t even know it was burned,” Clapp said.

Approximately 20,000 shrubs and cottonwood and willow trees survived the fire. They had been planted by adult volunteers and students.

“Their work was not in vain,” Cady said.

Clapp had been picking up a load of firewood, the night of the fire. When he got home, he received a phone call from a volunteer who said the refuge was on fire.

Clapp also had five phone messages waiting for him.

“I was choked up,” he said. “I did not know what was going to happen.”

In addition to Steigerwald, Clapp is the refuge manager of Franz Lake and Pierce national wildlife refuges.

Gay Leslie, president of the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards, has been involved in the effort to restore the former farmland to wildlife habitat. That has included planting trees and shrubs for cover and removing invasive plants such as blackberry and English ivy.

Cady said there will be plenty of ways to assist, even after the fire damage is taken care of.

“We need help to provide more facilities for visitors, such as observation blinds and viewing decks, as well as a way to fund our commitment to provide every fifth-grader in the Camas-Washougal schools with a day of environmental education and community service on the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge,” he said.

For information about volunteer opportunities, contact Clapp at 835-8767, email volunteer@refugestewards.org or visit www.refugestewards.org.