Gathering Place on track for summer opening

Structure next to Washougal museum pays homage to area’s indigenous heritage

Significant progress is being made on the construction of The Gathering Place at Washuxwal at Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal.

In January, builders fit large cedar planks to the top of the open-structure pavilion, creating not only a roof, but a milestone moment for the project commissioned by the Camas-Washougal Historical Society (CWHS).

“The roof kind of brought it to life,” Richard Johnson, a member of the museum’s board of directors, said on Thursday, Feb. 6, while looking up at the roof from the center of the unfinished pavilion. “We’ve been getting some calls and some inquiries from people asking, ‘What’s that?”’

“You can really see it from the road now,” project manager Jason Ferrier, an architect for Camas-based Lewallen Architecture, added.

There is still a significant amount of work to be done before the pavilion is completed, but the “slow and steady progress” of construction, which began in 2018, has been encouraging, Johnson said.

“What we’re celebrating today is the fact that everything yet to come is easily sourced. It’s not difficult to find,” he said. “The hard part is behind us.”

The design of the pavilion, located on a 10,000-square-foot lot on the museum’s southern side, is based on the traditional cedar plank houses used by Native American tribes who called the Columbia River area home in the early 19th century. With its inclusion of wood carvings, the pavilion will pay homage to this area’s indigenous heritage and serve as an outdoor exhibit that can be used for cultural and community events and field trips.

Ferrier said the biggest challenge so far was finding suitable wood for the pavilion.

“We went through three different vendors to get the cedar for this structure,” he said. “We wanted to keep it true to what would’ve been used. And, also, cedar has a lot longer lifespan than other woods. But it was difficult to find. A lot of cedar comes from Canada now, and finding things that we could get milled was tough. It had to be grated and inspected.”

The construction of the pavilion itself should be completed in the next few months, according to Ferrier. Then, what museum president Jim Cobb called “the second phase” — landscaping, replacing sidewalks, erecting an exterior fence and installing a series of art pieces that reflect the culture, stories and traditions of the Chinook tribe members that lived on the Columbia River near what is now Washougal — will begin.

Artist and carver Adam McIsaac, of La Center, is designing the wood pieces, some of which will be as high at 16 feet, Johnson said.

Planning for the project began in 2015, when a landscape architect suggested constructing some sort of pole building for meetings and gatherings and started to really take shape in 2017, after CWHS members linked the building to the area’s indigenous culture and started fundraising efforts.

“It’s consumed us for over two years. It’s been a big challenge,” Johnson said. “One of the challenges was that for Jason (and his team), they’re all learning. They’ve never done this before, so they’re going, ‘Well I don’t know. Let me check.'”

Ferrier said he’s learned a lot from the project.

“I took a tour of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse (in Ridgefield) and got some feedback from some Native American heritage people that live in the area,” Ferrier said. “I got some recommendations for some books about Native Americans and their use of cedar in particular. Between the book and the actual plank house, seeing the drawings they had, I came up with the design for (the pavilion).”

Community members and corporations have donated to the project, and CWHS members have secured various grants.

“The community has been exceptional as far as the funding,” Cobb said “We do need another $2,000 to complete it. We want to do it as nice as we can, as much as we can afford to do. You can keep adding artwork, but every one … is $10,000 or $15,000 for (an artist) to come in and carve an eagle or fish or something.”

CWHS and museum directors hope the pavilion will be completed this summer, Johnson said.

“(This project has caused) several sleepless nights,” Cobb said. “We’ve just taken one step at a time, and every step we took, we had to figure out how to do it.”

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