RIDGEFIELD — About 100 people took a stroll Friday afternoon from downtown to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, an activity that has become considerably easier this year.
The roughly mile-long walk from Pioneer Street and Main Avenue downtown to the Carty Lake Unit of the refuge commemorated a project intended to create safer pedestrian and bicycle access between the two points. The procession concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Previously, the sidewalks, curbs and road lanes, which are 35 feet wide on Main Avenue, ended at the city’s northern border near the Gee Creek crossing. The road narrowed to 22 feet wide with no sidewalks and very little shoulder.
Construction on a $3.2 million joint project by the city of Ridgefield, the refuge, Clark County and federal agencies was completed at the end of last year after starting last summer. Months later, new sidewalks line the road.
Janet and Dennis Benedict of Ridgefield like to walk from downtown to the Carty Unit about three times a week. They’ve often worn reflectors on their clothes to catch the attention of cars as they round a noticeable bend by Gee Creek.
“It was pretty perilous,” Dennis Benedict said. “(The improvements make) for a more pleasant hiking experience. It’s just a really easy, safe walk right now.”
To make things more perilous, a 10-foot culvert that ran under the Gee Creek crossing would often flood. As part of the project, that part of the road was lifted by 10 feet for a 40-feet culvert, which should also allow for safer fish passage.
“Upsizing this culvert helped all of those things,” Public Works Director Bryan Kast said.
The new 4.8-mile loop also connects to the Port of Ridgefield’s waterfront property.
The trail has been named after former Union Ridge Elementary School Principal John Hudson, who died in 1996. In 1969, Hudson, along with Allene Wodaege, helped found the school’s annual trip for fifth graders to the Cispus Learning Center in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trip, a Ridgefield School District mainstay, allows students to spend a week hiking, learning survival skills and playing in the woods.
His son, also named John Hudson, said he visits the wildlife refuge about once per month. He was asked, as he approached the newly constructed area, what the dedication would have meant to his father.
“He’d be very proud,” the younger Hudson said after briefly clearing a lump in his throat.
Kast said the city plans to install interpretive signs about Hudson.
Pedestrians and bicyclists will be more inclined to go to the wildlife refuge from downtown since they won’t be “dancing with traffic,” said Eric Anderson, acting project leader with the refuge. The refuge attracts about 175,000 people each year.
“I think that’s subject to change as we have safer access, easier access,” Anderson said.
One of the more frequent visitors might be Karen Mittelstadt and her 7-year-old daughters Emily and Kaitlyn. They walk at the refuge about eight-to 10 times each year, especially during summer.
“I told the girls, ‘We can walk from the library to the refuge,’” Mittelstadt said. “If we’re downtown anyway and we have enough energy, we’ll make our way here.”