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Different Cultures – Different Highways

I can never paddle the area around the confluence of the Lewis River and the Columbia River near the small Washington town of Ridgefield without thinking of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805-06. TheĀ  journals (http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu)

Confluence of the Lewis River and Columbia River

Confluence of the Lewis River and Columbia River

contain detailed descriptions of the area and make it very clear that the population of native Americans was very high, indeed. Paddling the area makes it very clear that there is virtually nothing left of this civilization in 2009.

On November 5, 2005, the two hundredth anniversary of the expedition passing the Chinook village of “Quathlapotle”, my paddling friend Pam and I sat with our kayaks beached where my wife’s ancestors had almost certainly beached their own kayaks. But there was almost no sign of any civilization at all, either ancient or modern, except for some pilings along the north edge of Bachelor Slough and a large navigation marker tucked up against the edge of Sauvie’s Island on the other side of the Columbia River.

My own interest in this area was kindled when our family was invited to the blessing of a replica longhouse in the area of the Cathlapotle village (http://www.plankhouse.org/). But modern culture uses the land for its highways and the original village site was inaccessible except by water so the new longhouse is about a mile east of the original village site. That site is part of an archaeological dig conducted during the summers by a nearby university and the beach, the one Pam and I were sitting next to, is distinguished by signs clearly indicating that we should not get out and explore.

In 2005 Pam and I had launched from the marina at Ridgefield, Washington which lies about 2 miles south of the original village site but when I visited Ridgefield last weekend it was clear to me than launching there – and paying the $6 fee – was going to be difficult due

This ramp leads to Ridgefield's Marina Office and a Kayak Business. Note the sign.

This ramp leads to Ridgefield's Marina Office and a Kayak Business. Note the sign.

to the high docks and steep ramps and signs that seemed less than welcoming. Instead, I retreated to a campsite at Paradise Point State Park where I parked the Princess (and hooked it up to electricity and started the heater). Then I launched from the beach under the freeway that fronts on the East Fork of the Lewis River and paddled downstream.

The Princess makes almost anywhere a comfortable camp; whether it’s a Wal-Mart parking lot or a private site in a state park. I had towed the 21-foot 1970 model Streamline trailer from my home in Moses Lake, WA across White Pass in the Cascade Mountains in the first snowstorm of winter season. This has, for some reason, become practically a tradition. After a late start and a 300-mile drive I simply stopped at

Paradise Point State Park launch site... a beach under I-5

Paradise Point State Park launch site... a beach under I-5

the Wal-Mart parking lot in Longview, WA so I’d be in position for setting up and paddling early Saturday morning.

Almost any place I chose to paddle I’d be paddling in what was, in the early 1800s, a thriving and vibrant civilization that only fell to the devastations of diseases introduced by white settlers around the middle of the 19th century. It seems that our modern culture has fewer ties to the water because there would be little sign of modern man during my river paddle. Cars on the roads and freeways, the occasional waterfront or floating home or house on a hillside, the railroad tracks and bridges and the odd

A floating home along the Lewis River

A floating home along the Lewis River

fishing boat on the water or jet plane in the sky would be the only traces. It is easy to imagine that you are back in 1805; except that in 1805 there would be much more human activity on the water.

My original intent – to repeat my visit to the site of Quathlapotle – turned out to be a trifle ambitious given my launch site. I paddled to the BNSF railroad bridge across the main Lewis River but did not realize that I was less than 2 miles from Quathlapotle itself. Thinking that I still had 5 or 6 miles more to paddle, I turned at the railroad bridge and fought the ebb tide back upstream to the park.

Later I drove around to see if I could find more launch sites that would be a little closer to the main Columbia. There was one perfect launch area called “Austin Point” due west of Woodland, WA and apparently controlled by the Woodland Port Authority. Signs at

Austin Point - an excellent launch beach right on the Columbia

Austin Point - an excellent launch beach right on the Columbia

Austin Point indicate that a permit would be required to use the area, day use only, and that the permit was available during normal working hours at the port office in Woodland, WA (about 3 miles away). However, as this was a weekend, no access to a permit was available and no explanation on the signs as to whether the permit is an annual one or a daily one.

Another access point was at a small campground on the south side of the Lewis River at the end of the road called “Pekin Ferry Road” (probably the old ferry route across the Lewis River long before the advent of modern roads). The campground offers a launch for $5 and fairly protected parking. A camp spot is available for $15 per night on a grassy sward with easy access to the river. I could not see if there was electricity available but it appeared that there might be.

Camping at Paradise Point State Park offers both utility sites and “standard” sites with easy access to the freeway (I-5 exit 16) and easy access to the river at the park’s beach located directly below the I-5 bridges across the East Fork of the Lewis River. The town of La Center is located a short distance away with several casinos for those paddlers who want to risk it all.

A word of caution here. I paddled the area during the first winter storms to hit the Cascade Mountains for the 2009/2010 season and there was only 1 to 2 kts of current going downstream. The launch at the State Park is only 3-feet above sea level according to my GPS so there should not be many hazards running downstream (or up, for that matter). However, a river – any river – is subject to change and sometimes that change can come with startling speed. I would expect that during spring runoffs there could be substantial current in both forks of the Lewis River and paddlers should use good judgment before launching.

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