Big year of construction kicks off at Steigerwald Reconnection Project


Culmination of the project will see the former floodplains of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Gibbons Creek reconnected to the Columbia River for the first time in generations

WASHOUGAL — Significant construction on the Steigerwald Reconnection Project will begin in April and will continue through December of this year. The culmination of this project will see the former floodplains of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Gibbons Creek reconnected to the Columbia River for the first time in generations. The Refuge is scheduled to reopen in spring 2022.

Culmination of the project will see the former floodplains of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Gibbons Creek reconnected to the Columbia River for the first time in generations. Photo by Mike Schultz
Culmination of the project will see the former floodplains of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Gibbons Creek reconnected to the Columbia River for the first time in generations. Photo by Mike Schultz

During the spring and summer, crews will finish constructing the east and west setback levees, which are a critical part of the project that 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,” said Dave Ripp, chief executive officer for the Port of Camas-Washougal. “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.”

Fall and winter will see the largest planting effort to date at the Refuge before the area reopens to the public in April 2022. Photo by Mike Schultz
Fall and winter will see the largest planting effort to date at the Refuge before the area reopens to the public in April 2022. Photo by Mike Schultz

Once 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. 

“This moment has been a decade in the making,” said Chris Collins, restoration program lead for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. “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.”

Additional restoration work will also take place on Gibbons Creek. For decades, the creek has flowed through a diversion structure into an elevated canal across the refuge, then down a fish ladder before discharging into the Columbia. These artificial features will be removed and Gibbons Creek will be released into its historic alluvial fan and floodplain, which was prepped with large wood habitat structures and native plantings during fall 2019.

The Columbia River Dike Trail will again be closed around the western edge of the Refuge on or about April 15 to allow for construction activities. In late 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 half a mile west of the current entrance.

Additional habitat restoration work will occur throughout the construction season, including constructing additional wetlands, installing large wood structures, seeding, and other habitat enhancements. Fall and winter will see the largest planting effort to date at the Refuge before the area reopens to the public in April 2022. 

“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. We are so grateful to the community and our partners for helping this important habitat restoration come to fruition,” said Juliette Fernandez, refuge manager for Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Information provided by Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

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