A spot on the Klickitat River just a mile upstream from where it enters the Columbia has been used for dispersed camping, fishing, and river access for generations. It’s part of the designated Wild and Scenic River corridor, which runs from the mouth upstream for 10.8 miles. At Mile One there is a flat bench area where people park and camp, and a steep 20-foot bank leads down to the river. Lately, though, use at Mile One has negatively impacted resources and degraded the experience. People trying to access the river and launching skiffs over the steep bank have caused the bank to erode into gullies. Visitors and campers have left trash and human waste behind. Some have just used the place as a dump.
Instead of just continually cleaning up the mess, local volunteers, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service are doing something about it. The Forest Service manages the Wild and Scenic River corridor, which encompasses Forest Service, Klickitat County, and privately-owned lands. The Klickitat Mile One project is a long-range plan to clean up the area, provide safe access to the river, reduce vegetation and soil impacts, add restrooms, and construct barriers to prevent further erosion.
Lorelei Haukness, a recreation planner with the Forest Service is shepherding the project, which went through an environmental review and a consistency review with the National Scenic Area Management Plan. “It’s a federally designated area where we are required to protect and enhance resource values including fish habitat,” she said. “We have also heard from local residents that used to visit the site for river access to the Klickitat but have stopped coming because of the illegal activity, trash, and sanitation concerns at the site.”
She said impacts at the site were substantial and added that before making any changes, the Forest Service made a strong effort to reach out to affected residents by posting notices onsite and in local newspapers.
“We have notified the public that we are going to be working on this project,” she said. “A lot of people have been camping at this site for years. I’ve talked to people from multi-generational families that have been camping there. So we really wanted to give people a heads up about what we are working on with the planning and give them an opportunity to get engaged.”
Since that time, she said people have been taking a little more care about leaving trash at the site, but routine patrols still found quantities of household garbage and other waste.
The first phase of the project began recently, with plantings of locally sourced willow “fascines,” or bundles of willow stakes, buried along the streambank parallel to the river with the goal of stabilizing the bank as they grow and acting like a natural retaining wall. Haukness said this was a necessary first step to stop any sediment that could be generated from developing infrastructure on the bench. Future plantings may also include native serviceberry, creeping snowberry, mock orange, Oregon grape, and milkweed.
The next step will be constructing a river access trail so that people have a safe place to get down to the river. In the past, people have taken a number of different paths to the water, which has contributed to the creation of gullies and more erosion. She said another contributor has been the practice of people offloading their boats and dragging them over the bank.
The management plan for the area will prohibit the launching of motorized boats and larger boats that cannot be hand carrier down the access trail. Camping will also be prohibited. The river access trail will improve access for people with smaller watercraft such as kayaks and paddleboards.
Haukness said that this will be an adjustment for visitors, but many people with skiffs launch them at Mayer State Park, across the Columbia on the Oregon side or use the boat launch at Lyle.
“I don’t think it’s ideal for smaller skiffs because the Columbia can obviously be quite choppy and tough to get across on windy days,” she said, “but the site’s topography and wild and scenic river designation do not allow for development of a launch for larger boats.
She said the Forest Service hopes to work with a number of partners on the project, including the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. “The Klickitat chapter of Trout Unlimited recently received some grant funding to begin restoration at the site,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to successfully phase project implementation because we know that if vehicles are not contained and people continue to use multiple pathways to access the river, our restoration efforts aren’t going to be successful.”
Further developments will include creating a designated parking area, to prevent further erosion on the upland area caused by vehicles driving all over the bench, and restroom installation. All that will take more money. Haukness said the Forest Service was actively seeking grants for the $400,000 it is estimated to fully implement the project.
“In the meantime, we’ll see how we do at the bank stabilization,” she said. “We thought that was a good place to get started.”
She said people can help by recreating responsibly, staying within the designated parking area once constructed, packing out any trash, and refraining from launching skiffs over the bank.
“We are going to ask that folks work with us and be patient as we work with our partners to cleanup and restore the area. Our goal is to continue to provide for recreational access while also protecting this amazing place.