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Our Eastern Outdoors: Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge

Over 1,000-acre refuge offers miles of habitat to explore

WASHOUGAL — Clark County hosts three national park areas, with the second largest being a lesser-known wildlife refuge to the far east.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge is 1,049 acres of wetlands, pastures and forests connected by over three miles of maintained walking trails.

Open year-round, the refuge is a hub for students, photographers and hikers seeking views of nature and wildlife. The trails winding through the refuge, take visitors through the wetlands around Steigerwald Lake, as well as the forested areas in the western portion of the area.

The view of Mt. Hood through the trees on the northern side of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Views like this one are common throughout the area. Photo by Mike Schultz
The view of Mt. Hood through the trees on the northern side of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Views like this one are common throughout the area. Photo by Mike Schultz

Originally established in 1987 to provide habitat to migratory animals after the construction of Bonneville Dam, the refuge was made open to the public in 2009.

Today, thousands of people visit the refuge, including students. Many come for the chance to see wildlife not present in the sprawls of suburban neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 200 of the 300 bird species in Clark County have been sighted within the refuge itself. Along with 20 different species of mammals and 15 species of reptiles and amphibians, the refuge is often associated with high probabilities of spotting animals.

A Northern Harrier, or Marsh Hawk, perches on a wooden post in Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Marsh hawk is a bird of prey; one of 200 bird species spotted in the refuge. Photo by Mike Schultz
A Northern Harrier, or Marsh Hawk, perches on a wooden post in Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Marsh hawk is a bird of prey; one of 200 bird species spotted in the refuge. Photo by Mike Schultz

While biking and pets are not allowed at Steigerwald, hiking, photography and group tours are. Parking and restroom facilities are provided, but all trash must be packed out, since no receptacles are present.

During certain parts of the year, visitors can attend special guided hikes. Birding and bat walks are currently available at Steigerwald, led by local volunteer naturalists.

The main pathway of Steigerwald is the Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail. The trail was constructed in 2009 when the refuge was opened to the public. It holds decorative and informative pieces of art; all centered around flora and fauna native to the refuge.

The northern portion of the art trail is closed from Oct. 1 through April 30. This is done to protect the waterfowl species living in that section of the feuge during the winter. The southern section of the trail is open year-round.      

Woodlands in the western section of the refugee contain mainly oak trees, and are critical habitat for many birds, mammals and insects. Photo by Mike Schultz
Woodlands in the western section of the refugee contain mainly oak trees, and are critical habitat for many birds, mammals and insects. Photo by Mike Schultz

There are currently no fees to access the refuge, due to largely volunteer maintenance crews. Environmental restoration, such as caring for riparian plants, is also a job handled by volunteers.

Schools in the area can also take advantage of the facilities at Steigerwald, with a educators program available on the Fish and Wildlife website. The program allows for schedule field trips containing grade school curriculum about the environment of the refuge.

For more information about Steigerwald, guided hikes, educational programs, and events or closure notices, visit the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife website or take a look at their Facebook page.

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About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a recent graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and in Argentina. His passions range from loving people, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA.

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