Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Pacific Region

Recreation - Plankhouse & Cultural Resources

Cathlapotle Plankhouse

Along the Oaks to Wetlands Trail of the Carty Unit, see the cedar Cathlapotle Plankhouse. Archaeological evidence, historic documents, and the Lewis and Clark journals suggest that the plankhouses of the lower Columbia River were magnificant structures, standing for hundreds of years. In 2005 the Refuge, its partners, and volunteers united to construct a replica Plankhouse to interpret, educate, and recover the natural and cultural hertiage of the Refuge. The Cathlapotle Plankhouse is generally staffed on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 pm during the summer. Arrangements can be scheduled for group and educational tours throughout the year. Please visit www.plankhouse.org for a scheduled hours of operation and other special events.


Cathlapotle - Ancient Village on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Many years before Europeans arrived to the lower Columbia River, the area's rich natural resources such as those found on present day Ridgefield NWR had been sustaining people for thousands of years. Over the last decade, archaeological research on the Refuge - conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Chinook Tribe and Portland State University - revealed fascinating information about the area's ancient environment and the importance of the plants and animals to the native people. Scientists uncovered the remains of a large ancient village bearing testimony to an enduring and intimate relationship between people and the land.

Explorers Lewis & Clark documented the village of Cathalpotle (Cath-la-poo-tuhl or Cath-la-poe-tuhl) in their journals while on their way to the Pacific Ocean on November 5, 1805. They counted 14 cedar plankhouses belonging to the people of the "Quathlapotle nation" and estimated some 900 inhabitants. From the shore, seven canoes of Indians from the village paddled out to inspect the strangers and trade with them. Returning in March 1806, Lewis and Clark stopped again at Cathlapotle for several hours.

After leaving the village, Lewis and Clark went on to camp for the night at a "butifull grassy place" about a mile upstream. This site is also located on the Refuge. It is known today as Wapato Portage because it is here that Clark described observations of the village women portaging their canoes into what is today known as Carty Lake to collect wapato, a large-leafed wetland plant with a starchy tuber. Despite its place in American history, the site's significance does not revolve soley around its one-time use as a campsite by the famed explorers. Radiocarbon dating has determined that human habitation here dates back at least 2,300 years, making it one of the oldest inhabited sites known in the floodplain of the lower Columbia River.

Cathlapotle and Wapato Portage are two archaeological sites on the Columbia River that have withstood the destructive forces of flooding, looting, and development. Today, that rich natural and cultural legacy is permanently protected on Ridgefield NWR. Archaeological evidence from these sites shows that the people were harvesting an abundance of salmon, elk, waterfowl, native grasses, and trees for their survival. These resources also formed the basis of an elaborate and successful trading system, bringing great wealth to the native people. In many ways, wildlife and natural resource management was taking place here long before our modern day refuge was ever established.

To commemorate this historic event and to share with you the significant role natural resources had in our native peoples' cultures, the Refuge staff, volunteers, and parnters constructed a cedar plankhouse, similar to those that were found at the ancient village of Cathlapotle. To learn more about this project, visit www.plankhouse.org.

Second Sunday events at the Plankhouse.

Join us every second sunday of the month through Septemer for a themed day of presentations and activities. All ages encouraged to attend!

2013 Plankhouse Second Sunday Event Flier

*The Plankhouse is ADA accessable through special arrangement. Please call the refuge office during regular business hours if you need special accomodation.

Follow these links to learn more about recreation opportunities on the Refuge:

Special Events

General Recreation Map

Wildlife Observation

Waterfowl Hunting


Auto Tour Route

Plankhouse & Cultural Resources




Last updated: July 19, 2013