Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NW ~ Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Date visited: January 26, 2007
Agency: US Fish and Wildlife
Path Surface: Dirt/Gravel
Elevation gain/loss: Rolling, short hills
Distance: Two miles
Ratings: Setting ++ Calorie-burning ++
Directions: I-5 in Washington to exit 14. Turn west through the town of Ridgefield and turn right on Main St. Left at sign marking Refuge.

The Oaks to Wetlands Trail offers many viewing opportunites. The first you are likely to encounter is the Plankhouse. On their way to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark stopped in a native village called Cathalpotle (Cath-la-poo-tuhl or Cath-la-poe-tuhl) on November 5, 1805. They counted 14 cedar plankhouses, like the one reproduced here, belonging to the people of the "Quathlapotle nation." Lewis and Clark's company estimated some 900 inhabitants in the native village. To learn more about the Plankhouse, click here.

After leaving the village, Lewis and Clark camped for the night at a "butifull grassy place." As near as can be determined, this site is located on the Refuge. It is known today as Wapato Portage in Carty Lake because it is here that Clark observed the village women portaging their canoes to collect wapato, a large-leafed wetland plant with a starchy tuber. Watch for the sign as you are out on the trail.

The second attraction of the present-day trail is the signage to identify some familiar northwest plants, including wapato. Winter is a fine time to visit if you are a birder, but if you are interested in plants, pick another season so that you can actually distinguish the plants identified by the signage!

Finally, there are the birds. Winter waterfowl love the open water and wetlands surrounding the trail. Perching birds are plentiful and more visible with the leaves off the trees. Even in winter, you may see a surprising variety of avian species.

The passing trains are a distraction. Automatic gates close at posted times. There is a fee to enter, currently $3. The usual federal government passes are accepted. No dogs are allowed.

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