Sowing Steigerwald’s future

Volunteers help plant trees and shrubs at Washougal refuge

Dozens of volunteers braved frigid temperatures Saturday to help plant hundreds of trees and shrubs at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

It may have been chilly, but the Boy Scouts, Daisy Scouts and others who attended the joint effort between the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership and Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards were happy to be greeted by sunny skies, instead of showers.

Volunteers have had to suffer through a number of rainy weekends as thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted during the past three months at the Washougal site including elderberry, dogwood, cottonwood, willows and wild rose. The purchase of the bare root trees and shrubs, and other costs such as staff time, was funded through grants from LCREP.

Another planting event will be held this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the refuge. Others could be held in April, according to Refuge Manager Jim Clapp.

“Planting during the winter is going to give all of these starts water for the next three months,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife volunteer Andy Reid. “Because after April, there’s no guarantee as to how much water we’ll get.”

The 1,049-acre Steigerwald Lake Refuge was once known by locals as “Robert’s Bean Farm.” In 1975, a group of local residents helped convince the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to take the area on as a preservation project. After 10 years of work, it finally became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1985. Today, the 1,049-acre area is home to 200 species of birds.

The Refuge Stewards help preserve and maintain the Steigerwald Lake, Pierce and Franz Lake refuges in the western Columbia Gorge.

There was no public access to the Steigerwald Refuge until June 2009 upon the completion of a $2.2 million project that created an open-air timber kiosk, restroom facility, overlook platform and stone benches, 2.25-mile gravel loop trail, as well as an automated entrance gate and gravel parking lot.

The Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail currently includes a handful of interpretive sculptures incorporated into the natural environment. Clapp said more sculptures, and a brochure explaining their meaning are in the works.

To learn more about the refuge and upcoming work parties, visit www.refugestewards.org.

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