Washougal search-and-rescue group seeks new headquarters

Silver Star Search and Rescue’s 35-year lease of city property expires in 2023; search for new property comes up short

Silver Star Search and Rescue is conducting a new search — this time, though, instead of finding missing hikers in the wilderness or lost children in the city, the Washougal-based search and rescue operation is looking for a new home.

Formed by a group of CB radio operators in the early 1960s to assist the local sheriff’s department, Silver Star has been operating out of its Washougal headquarters, located at 1220 “A” St., next to the Washougal Police Department, since 1983, when its leaders struck an agreement with the city of Washougal to build a site on city-owned property and to lease that property for the next 35 years.

In 2019, the city informed the group that their lease, which is set to expire in October 2023, would not be renewed. Silver Star has been searching for a new home ever since.

“It definitely hit hard, because we’ve been there for so long, and we put so much into that building, and everyone knows to go there,” said Silver Star board president Wade Oxford. “It’s not just used for our use — other community organizations use it as well. It’s going to be a big change for a lot of folks. It was disappointing to hear that they weren’t willing to renew the lease to us.”

Even though he’s looking at options in surrounding cities, Oxford would prefer the search and rescue operation remain in Washougal.

“Washougal has been pretty good to us, and it’s actually a great location for our response area because typically we end up going up to Mount Adams, Carson, up that direction for a lot of our calls,” he said. “Staying on this side of the county would be pretty beneficial for us.”

Silver Star volunteers respond to wilderness and urban emergencies and perform search-and rescue-missions in Southwest Washington. They cover miles of wilderness while looking for missing hikers, climbers, hunters, or mushroom- and berry-pickers who have been reported overdue and are potentially lost or injured.

They also help city police officers and county sheriffs search for lost children, people with cognitive difficulties and other at-risk individuals, and evidence at crime scenes.

“To be here to serve the community and help when help is needed is what we all like to do the best,” Oxford said. “I am (optimistic that we’ll find a new home). I think something will come through for us that will work, whether it be in the interim or permanently.”

Washougal City Manager David Scott said the city does not yet have a firm plan for the building, but will likely use some of the space to accommodate Washougal’s growing police department.

“We are still a ways out from expiration of the lease, so we have not determined exactly how we will utilize the property for this purpose. We will have to assess the building and determine whether we can use it with some remodeling or whether we need to look at a demolition and rebuild,” Scott said. “Whichever approach is taken, at a minimum, the property will provide space for members of the police team. We will explore other opportunities for complimentary use of the space as well as appropriate. The property is adjacent to a small city park, so that might also present some interesting opportunities.”

Oxford said he has talked to property owners and investigated potential sites all over Clark County for two years, but has not yet been able to find a suitable location.

“I have no real good leads other than a building in Washougal (that) looks kind of run-down, and has a lot of maintenance and security issues,” Oxford said. “I thought it would probably take this long (to find a new home). We are a nonprofit, so trying to find a new home that’s within our budget is very, very difficult. We need a large area, and for someone to just give that away for next to nothing, a lot of that generosity is not there these days. To find something that is secure and stable, no one wants to just give up. (And the pandemic) has definitely slowed my communications with some of the people that I was talking with.”

Silver Star’s next home should be able to accommodate a variety of uses, Oxford said.

Ideally, the space would be able to house the search and rescue operation’s equipment, including a truck, snowmobiles and a utility terrain vehicle, and have some office space, at least one restroom and room to hold meetings or volunteer trainings.

Oxford said the group would be hard-pressed to store its equipment in more than one location.

the worst-case scenario is that Silver Star finds a site that only accommodates the equipment and not the volunteers who make

“To have our stuff spread out throughout the community, if we ever get a call, trying to get that stuff to the location we need it would be very difficult because not everybody can respond at any time,” he said.

To learn more about Silver Star Search and Rescue, visit silverstarsar.org.