Five Boys, Three Moms, Trolls and Treasure at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
By Sarah Coomber
Photos by Andria Villanueva and Sarah Coomber
“Let’s find the treasure!” called Andria, another mom I’ve roped into my mission to stay sane by hiking this pre-school and largely daycare-free summer.
That got our little guys’ attention and lured them out of the tall grass near the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge parking lot and toward the pedestrian bridge that arches high over the railroad tracks and into the refuge itself.
About a mile north of the city of Ridgefield, in the refuge’s Carty Unit, the Oaks to Wetlands Trail is a 2-mile loop that rambles through old oaks and cedars and alongside grassy wetlands. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge is home to waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, river otter, black-tailed deer and coyotes. (Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge provide additional information here.)
As three moms with five little boys ranging from 2 months to 5 years of age, we had no illusions about seeing wildlife. (Other than the ones we brought with us.) That said, this was a wonderful place for us to soak up some sunshine and scenery while the boys ran and rummaged.
Highlights for the little ones included searching for trolls under the trail’s little wooden bridges, looking for secret passageways in the woods and watching a couple of passing Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains from the pedestrian bridge. (The tracks run along the eastern border of the refuge.)
All of us were fascinated by the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, located just inside the refuge. Completed in 2005 by more than 100 volunteer builders, this full-size replica of a Chinookan cedar plankhouse resembles the ones explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited in 1806 not far from this site.
The Plankhouse is beautiful to look at and smells wonderful too. It is open most Saturday and Sunday afternoons between April and October and offers educational and children’s activities the second Sunday of each month. (July 11— basket weaving; Aug. 8—Ravenstail weaving, flintknapping, Chinookan style carving, atlatl throwing and textile arts; and Sept. 12—prehistoric artifacts. Check the Plankhouse calendar for more information.
Our visit to the refuge lasted about two hours during which we hit maybe a third of the trail system before breaking for snacks and train-watching. It was during snack time that little Ian, beaming, shouted, “I found the treasure!” and brought his mom, another Sarah, something that looked like a piece of hose. No … it looked like a twig with a dangling cocoon. No … it looked like a nearly-but-not-quite-beheaded garter snake! Mom ran, and Ian, thankfully and oh-so-thoughtfully, tossed the whole works into the tall grass behind us.
Boys do put the wild in wildlife.
Good to know:
• Primitive restrooms are available at the parking lot.
• Some trails are muddy—not stroller-friendly.
• $3 to park
• Insect repellent (On June 25th the mosquitoes were out in force.)
Watch out for:
• Easy-exit gate to the train tracks a bit north of the plankhouse.
It has a “danger” sign, but little ones don’t read. Or care.
• Mosquitoes in the wooded area.