Construction resumes at Steigerwald wildlife refuge

Reconnection project will mitigate flood risk for neighbors of Washougal area wildlife refuge, provide new recreational opportunities

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A sign tells human visitors to keep away from "birds only" area at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal on Dec. 19, 2017. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

The Steigerwald Reconnection Project, which aims to reconfigure the existing Columbia River levee system to reduce flood risk, reconnect 965 acres of Columbia River floodplain at the refuge and increase recreation opportunities, resumed earlier this month. 

Later this year, crews will finish constructing two setback levees which will mitigate flood risk for adjacent property owners, including a residential neighborhood, a working ranch and the Port of Camas-Washougal. 

“The Port is very excited to see the Steigerwald Reconnection Project beginning its third phase this spring and completion later this fall,” Port chief executive officer David Ripp said in a news release. “This project will create many environmental, recreational and flood protection benefits for many years, and the Port is especially proud to be a partner in such a significant project for our region.”

Once the setback levees are complete, crews will remove more than two miles of the existing levee and create four breaches between the area and the Columbia River. These direct connections will allow for seasonal flooding throughout the floodplain and unobstructed access for salmon and lamprey. 

Additional restoration work will also take place on Gibbons Creek. 

“This moment has been a decade in the making,” Chris Collins, restoration program lead for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, said in the news release. “We have so many partners involved, it’s just gratifying to see their work come together. And it’s going to be such a thrill to finish the setback levees and trail, remove two miles of old levee and to share the transformation of the refuge with the public.”

The Columbia River Dike Trail around the western edge of the refuge has been closed to allow for construction activities. This fall, the refuge trail system will be revamped with an extra mile of trail, including a newly aligned multi-use trail along the Columbia River waterfront, two new bridges and additional viewpoints. Visitors will also find a new parking lot, with an additional 10 spaces at a new entrance located about a half-mile west of the current entrance.

Additional habitat restoration work, including the construction of additional wetlands, the installation of large wood structures, seeding and other habitat enhancements, will occur throughout the construction season.

“Although we are less than halfway through the construction of this three-year project, we know that at completion, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge will be a welcome home to people and wildlife alike,” Juliette Fernandez, refuge manager for the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, stated in the news release. “We are so grateful to the community and our partners for helping this important habitat restoration come to fruition.”

The refuge is scheduled to reopen in spring 2022.