History of the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society Nature Trail
Written by Roderick Coler and Mike Lilga
Location: Eight acres in central Columbia Park between State Highway 240 and the Columbia River in Kennewick. Entrance on Columbia Park Drive, l.3 miles west of the golf course.
The setting for the trail is a wooded section, mostly of Russian olives, willow, and cottonwood. There is a scattering of planted trees and shrubs. It varies from thicket and groves to open fields. Most has grown since the homes and farms of the settlers of an earlier Kennewick, were removed from that area on the banks of the Columbia River as Lake Wallula formed in 1952. This was the year of the flooding behind the newly-constructed McNary Dam.
In the 1960s, Kennewick City Parks and Recreation Department had arranged with the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society (LCBAS) and the Junior Women's Club in their adjoining sections, to develop and maintain a nature trail. This area would always promote plant growth because of the high water table. In fact, a section of both east and west ends of the Audubon section was a marsh many months of the year.
Superintendent of Parks Jim Pope and a committee from the Audubon Society headed by Elisabeth Moore and including Alice Stringer, Bob Woodley, Ron McClellan , Betty Hinckley, Barbara Gocus and Letha Blythe, met often in the spring of 1971. Their design was a large oval trail of one-half mile with a bisector. The trail was cut through a dense willow stand, had an entrance pad and sign and crossed a marshy area on elevationslined with railroad ties with gravel fill in between. Each spring the east end trail was under water as the marsh became a weed-choked pond. Local Scout Troop 169 developed a map spotting interesting features and large trees.
Rod Coler joined LCBAS in 1970 and worked intermittently to keep the trail open. In 1975, he became an unofficial trail chairman and found Audubon members eager to help. By 1977 he was working with the first of eight scouts needing community service projects to fulfill one of the requirements for the Eagle Scout Badge. His son, Clark, was the first of these and each subsequent scout prepared, creosoted, and staked pallets to the ground to form a wooden trail. Underly plastic suppressed weed growth. The heavy, over sized pallets were the bottoms of crates used to deliver materials to the Hanford Site and were brought to the trail site by Lampson International Inc. transport trucks. Each scout prepared the ground and laid 300 feet of wooden trail. In the next decade six more scouts developed trail-side projects, and various organizations, such as the Garden Club, planted trees and shrubs.
Eagle Scout projects at this time included the elevated bird observation platform at the west marsh, and several shade and picnic areas. Teachers began bringing classes to give children a "woodland experience". By 1990, the pallets had deteriorated and work crews under Don Bihl and Rod Coler were unable to maintain the trail. It was closed for two years while the pallets and railroad ties were removed and plans made for a safer surfacing
Renovation began in 1991 with Mike Lilga and Rod Coler developing a fund-raising program. It was decided that asphalting would be the best solution to prevent weed overgrowth, provide a safe family trail and deal with surface water and tree roots. The trail was redesigned to get closer to interesting areas and with two cross trails, became the present length of 8/10ths of a mile. Chain saws widened the path through the thickets to accomodate paving equipment. Local landscaper, GaryMcKean, bladed the trail to control the choking re-growth of weeds. Senske Lawn and Tree Care, with their agent, Scott Hockersmith, contributed the final weed control of the base before the paving. The outdoor classroom benches were installed during this period. A new and larger entrance sign consisting of two panels was constructed of wood donated by Rizzuto Lumber. The first panel was a trail map sign, which was designed and painted by Clark Coler and routed by Jim Strong of the Columbia Basin College carpentry shop. The other panel which displayed updated lists and pictures of the area's birds, plants, and butterflies was designed and produced by Mike. It was erected by Dan Dionas, Mike, and Rod. Two huge Ice Age flood boulders removed by developers in the Tri-Cities were transported by Bill Lampson's crew and placed at the trail entrance. The larger granite stone had floated in ice for hundreds of miles from the northeast and been deposited high on a hill. The smaller basalt boulder was water-rolled and found in the lowland.
During this time, Mike had arranged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on a design by the Soil Conservation Service, to dig out the east marsh and reestablish the old pond of that area. This also served to prevent the annual spring flooding of the trail and road. Permits were obtained and a pond of 1/3 acre was excavated. At one time or another since then Redwing Pond has been home to beaver, muskrat, a number of painted turtles, ducks, and a large collection of bullfrogs.
The water bubbles up from the bottom of the pond and it apparently comes from the highlands to the north under the Kennewick-Richland highway. The mountain of dirt scraped out became in part a berm along Columbia Drive and was shaped by Ray Poland and Sons. Gary McKean and Wildlands contributed native grasses, and trees and shrubs were purchased which soon covered the reconstructed landscape. Audubon Club members worked long hours.
After two years of fund raising, Kiwanis Club, Columbia Center Rotary, Kennewick Past Men of the Year Club, and the City of Kennewick itself made generous contributions. LCBAS members donated generously and Rosa Lee Litzenberger suggested a penny drive to help pave the trail. “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” raised several hundred dollars simply by passing a donation can for members to deposit their spare change at many LCBAS meetings.
Of the four companies asked to bid on the paving, A&B Asphalt with Adam Schatz and Chuck Eliason was the only one to take the challenge. When they made a generous contribution in addition to donating all of the ballast, the $36,000 in the bank became "sufficient". They paved the continuously curving 8-foot widetrail in August 1993.
Dale Litzenberger and Kathy Criddle were presidents of LCBAS at that time. Mike and the board arranged for a ceremony to mark the completion of Phase 1. The Vice President of the National Audubon Society, Brock Evans, had business in Kennewick and was invited. With an audience of nature trail workers, contributors, some City officials, and the Audubon Club members, speeches were made, contributors thanked, the ribbon was cut and we all enjoyed Barbara Clarke's cake and punch. The new trail was dedicated September 15, 1993.
Phase 2 was the building of an elevated walkway over a wet area at the northwest section of the trail. The year-round marsh in the area needed a 50-yard bridge to get through this interesting section. Mike insisted that this be constructed of recycled plastic/wood—Tri-Max in order to prevent rotting. This required $8,000 more! Funds were raised primarily from Realtor Robert Young and the City of Kennewick. The walkway design was donated by HDR Engineering. Builders' Lumber Company arranged for the shipment and storage of materials. Retired construction superintendent, Paul Voss, headed a team of retired carpenters—Don Johnson, Dell Long, Ben Borgen, and Bob McKennis—all volunteering their time to expertly construct a walkway. It was to be underlain by two supporting railroad tracks contributed by Burlington Northern, on cement piers contributed by Acme Cement. Again, Gary McKean volunteered his blade to dig the footings, George Grant contributed the angle irons, and in November 1994, a Lampson crane arrived to swing the pre-cut railroad tracks onto the piers where they were welded to the irons. It is said that Rod and Mike took a long rest. Actually they were still busy writing "Thank You" notes.>
The Edison Street interchange came in 1996. The westbound ramp sliced through the southwest corner requiring a section of the trail to be moved. Jerry Turnbaugh was president. Plant expert Diane Ackerman from Audubon joined the Committee and oversaw the irrigation, weed control, and the mitigation plantings on the ramp. In 1997, the State Department of Parks held a convention in the Tri-Cities and at the dinner Mike Lilga was honored as the "Contributor of the Year" for his leadership in the trail development.
Jack Dawson, who had worked on many a Saturday trail clearing, became trail chairman 1997-1998. He organized work parties to continue the pruning and hauling the ever growing nature. Several more Eagle Scout projects developed along the trail.Tom McMillin was trail chairman from September 1999 to 2002 when more benches were placed, trees behind the entrance sign were planted and the overlook elevated observation platform was repaired and repainted. His strength served well to muscle the brush cutter around both sides of the trail. He hauled water on a weekly basis to get the new trees started.
A heavy duty lawnmower was needed to keep the trail edges open. Grants were obtained from Columbia Center Rotary and Kennewick Past Man of the Year Club to buy a DR 15 HP self-propelled Brush Cutter and trailer (spring 2000). This has been a great machine in maintaining the trail and is shared by Columbia Center Rotary in their trail work in Zintel Canyon. (That trail head is at Vancouver and 7th Streets in Kennewick.)
Tom McMillin and Barbara Clarke headed a movement in 2001 to re-dedicate the Audubon Nature Trail as the "Dr. Rod S. Coler Audubon Nature Trail". On May 12th, at the entrance to the trail, a small group assembled. Present were Rod, Mike, Tom McMillin, Tom Clarke, Diane Ackerman, Bill Lampson, Russ Burtiner and club members. All enjoyed recounting trail stories. The dedication plaque was unveiled, speeches made and all retired to the Willow Grove for Barbara's cake and punch.
In the May 2002 issue of Sunset Magazine, there is an article on the Tri-Cities riverfront activities. It mentions the Rod Coler Audubon Nature Trail as an interesting place to take a walk in the woods if one tires of "sagebrush country". Eagle Scout projects have continued and a reader board describes "Kennewick Man"—the 9,200-year-old skeleton eroded out of the Columbia River bank in Columbia Park in 1998. Another describes the Ice Age floods that repeatedly sculpted the Columbia Basin, 15,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The Trail has served as the starting point for the Kennewick Section of the annual "Audubon Bird Count". For several years, it was the collecting point for the January Christmas tree chipping fund raiser for the Club. On one dark and candle-lit Halloween night, a children's fund raiser with ghost story readers was held by the Academy of Children's Theater. It has served numerous elementary school field trips, often lead by LCBAS Education Committee members. Since 1977, 21 community service projects for the Eagle Scout Award have taken place along the trail. The most recent are the repair and painting of the Outpost shade structure and the development of a large Butterfly Garden.
Best of all is the spirit shown by all three communities in which over 250 people and organizations gave money, working time, and equipment to build the trail and maintain it as a unique in-town woodland experience.