National Wildlife Refuge
|Near State Rte 14 and 15th St
Phone Number: 360-835-8767
|Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Continued . . . The earliest European exploration of the Gorge occurred in 1792, when Lieutenant William Broughton of the Vancouver expedition landed at Point Vancouver, near the east end of Steigerwald Lake. Thirteen years later, in 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the area when traveling down the Columbia. They recorded the small prairie above the mouth of the Washougal River at what is now Steigerwald Lake Refuge. They visited again on their return trip in 1806, when they established a camp at Cottonwood Beach, just southwest of the refuge. Over the following two decades, the bottomlands at Steigerwald Lake became known as "Tea Prairie," perhaps because of the abundance of wild mint growing in the area.
Early settlers tried to farm the area, but annual spring flooding by the Columbia River and Gibbons Creek made farming difficult, if not impossible. By 1880, the agricultural emphasis switched to dairying. Drainage and diking efforts between 1920 and 1950 made it possible to plant some row crops and small orchards. Annual flooding from spring thaws presisted until the major dam building projects of the 1950s. The bottomlands were diked in 1966, and expulsion pumps were installed in preparation for the development of an industrial park on the west side of Steigerwald Lake. A ditch was dug through the middle of the lake basin to further drain the area, the cottonwood forest was reduced, and grazing reduced the shrublands within remnant riparian areas.
The refuge was established in 1987 as mitigation for impacts that resulted from construction of a second powerhouse at the Bonneville Lock and Dam on the Columbia River between 1974 and 1983.
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