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Group aims to beautify stretch of Highway 14

East County Citizens Alliance works with WSDOT to plant wildflowers between Washougal roundabouts

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Clockwise right to left, Cindy Eisenman, Dion Gutkind and Melanie Wilson of the East County Citizens Alliance tend to a small "demonstration" garden on state Route 14 close to the Washougal River Road roundabout in January 2023. ECCA members planted the garden to prepare for the 4,000-square-foot wildflower bed they will be planting on the highway later in 2023. (Contributed photo courtesy of Barb Seaman)

First, East County Citizens Alliance (ECCA) volunteers launched an ongoing effort to pick up litter from state Route 14 (Highway 14) between Camas and Washougal. Then, they formally “adopted” the stretch of road through the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program.

And now, the Washougal-based nonprofit organization is preparing its next highway project, which promises to be bigger — and more colorful — than ever.

ECCA is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Southwest Region to bring a 4,000-square-foot wildflower bed to the north side of state Route 14 (Highway 14) between the traffic roundabouts at Washougal River Road and 32nd Street in Washougal.

“When we went through the process with (WSDOT) of adopting the highway, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could plant flowers as well?'” said project coordinator Barb Seaman. “Part of the thinking is that we’ve spent so much time out there picking up trash, and if it looked a little nicer, maybe people would think twice about throwing their garbage out.”

ECCA volunteers will begin to prepare the soil in April and plant seeds in the fall, and have hopes of seeing flowers bloom by the spring of 2024.

“It would be great to have something that looks beautiful and makes people feel good as they’re driving through Washougal,” Seaman said. “(We’d also like) to encourage the pollinators and the bees and the little insects that live in those kinds of plants and feed off of those kinds of plants. But also, ECCA is all about finding projects that bring the community together and give people an opportunity to work together on things and get to know each other and build relationships, and this is a great way to do that. So many people are interested in the environment, flowers and gardening, and they’re interested in just trying to make Washougal look better and feel better.”

Seaman and ECCA founder Melanie Wilson have worked with a WSDOT landscaping official for several months to select the size and location of the bed, soil preparation methods (solarization and shallow cultivation), and species of native flowers to plant.

“What’s impressed me about this process is how complex it is,” Wilson said. “When we first started, people — even some of our own folks — would say, ‘Let’s just make some seed balls and throw them out on the side of the road. How hard can it be?’ The answer is, ‘It can be pretty hard.’ There are a lot of ways to go wrong, and we don’t want to waste our effort or our money or our volunteers’ time. We really want to optimize our chances for success, and that means being really careful. I practically feel like some of us are becoming botanists (through all of our work).”

Wilson said WSDOT employees told her that the project is “unusual.”

“There was nothing here in this part of the state that they could (compare) it to,” she said. “We’re going to carefully document our work and educate ourselves and maybe others about what can be done, and we know that the WSDOT will appreciate any learning we’re able to surface for the good of other groups.”

ECCA has budgeted $2,700 for the project and recently received a $1,400 grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest.

“We’ve written another small grant, maybe we’ll get that,” Wilson said. “But we really believe that there’s so much support in the community for this that if we needed to raise money directly from folks to get this done, I don’t think we’d have a hard time.”

ECCA is looking for volunteers to join the effort. For more information, email eastcountycitizens@gmail.com.

“The idea is to get out there in the spring, maybe late spring, and start preparing these sites and start doing whatever we can to kill the grasses that are there,” Seaman said. “And then in the fall, we’ll get out there and do our planting. There is a lot of stuff to be done out there, so we’ll probably have several events where we’re asking between 10 and 20 people to come out and help us.”