Seven options for those who use a wheelchair to get outdoors in Southwest Washington

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By Erin Middlewood for The Columbian

Published: July 9, 2017, 6:00 AM

Amy Bounds wants to enjoy the outdoors with her family. The hitch: Her husband uses a wheelchair.

The 45-year-old Vancouver woman posed this question to Clark Asks: “What outdoor activities — such as camping, hiking, swimming and exploring — are available in Clark County for people in a wheelchair?”

“We haven’t done much,” Bounds said. Her husband, Jeff, is a 52-year-old Iraq war veteran in a wheelchair as a result of his service. They want to get outside with their two teenagers. They have been to Klineline Pond, a popular swimming spot north of Vancouver, but are seeking other adventures.

Although most parks have been upgraded to provide restrooms and parking spots that comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, it takes a bit more than that to provide a truly good outdoor experience for those using wheelchairs. We talked with parks and public lands officials to create this list of seven activities in and near Clark County.

• Take a hike without leaving town.

Salmon Creek Greenway and Trail via the Salmon Creek Sports Association Complex, 800 N.E. 117th St., Vancouver;

The easiest way to get to the greenway trail is through the parking lot at the ball fields, where parking is free. The 3-mile paved trail follows Salmon Creek through a meadow, wetland and woods. The trail is pretty flat, with a few gentle slopes about halfway through, and a steeper slope leading up to Northwest 36th Avenue on the west end. Even though the trail is in an urban area, it’s not uncommon to spot herons, egrets and even beavers. If you park at nearby Klineline Pond, you’ll have to pay $3 per car, but you’ll be close to wheelchair-accessible viewpoints where you can fish.

• Go birdwatching.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, 28908 N.W. Main Ave. and 1071 S. Hilhurst Road, Ridgefield;

The refuge recently replaced the pedestrian bridge across railroad tracks in the Carty Unit, just north of the Ridgefield city limits. The bridge connects a parking lot to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. The old bridge’s steep grade was smoothed to a gentle slope on the new one, but be prepared for loose gravel in the parking lot off Main Avenue. For wildlife viewing, take the 4-mile auto tour route through the River S unit, on the south side of Ridgefield off Hillhurst Road. The auto route, open May through September, is the best way to see wildlife, because animals don’t perceive cars as a predators and won’t run away. From the auto route, you can get out of your car and hike the 1.5-mile Kiwa Trail, which consists of packed gravel and boardwalks. Although visitors pay $3 per vehicle to enter the refuge, anyone with a permanent disability can obtain a free, lifetime Access Pass for entrance to federal lands.

• Pack a picnic.

Lewisville Regional Park, 26411 N.E. Lewisville Highway, Battle Ground;

The 154-acre wooded park along the East Fork of the Lewis River was established in the 1930s and is considered the crown jewel of Clark County’s park system. Nearly 3 miles of trails that loop through the park are covered with fine, packed gravel. Skip the common picnic area, which is not accessible. Eight of the 13 picnic shelters that can be reserved have wheelchair access. The beach isn’t accessible, but a viewpoint overlooking the river is. Parking costs $3 per car unless you have a $30 annual county parking pass.

• Roll along the River.

Vancouver Lake and Frenchman’s Bar Regional Parks, 6801 N.W. Lower River Road and 9612 N.W. Lower River Road;

The 2.5-mile, 12-foot-wide paved trail that connects Vancouver Lake to Frenchman’s Bar is relatively flat, and offers views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier on a clear day. The picnic shelters at both parks are accessible by wheelchair. Parking at either spot costs $3 per car unless you have a $30 annual county parking pass.

• Gaze at the Gorge.

Beacon Rock State Park, 34841 State Route 14, Stevenson;

Beacon Rock may not leap to mind for wheelchair accessibility, and for good reason. But just west, the Doetsch Walking Path offers a fabulous view of the monolith and the Columbia River from a flat 1.2-mile trail that meanders through a meadow. The parking area is paved. The state Discover Pass is required. It costs $10 per day or $30 for an annual pass, but a permanent disability parking permit waives the fee.

• Get away to the lake.

Merwin Reservoir, Ariel;

Merwin Reservoir is cold and deep, surrounded by steep forest. PacifiCorp, which manages recreation sites along the Lewis River, has upgraded swimming, picnic and camping areas for disabled access over the years. Merwin Park offers wheelchair access to a boomed swimming area. Farther east on state Highway 503 lies Cresap Bay Park, a campground on Merwin Reservoir with accessible camp sites, showers and docks. A paved road loops through the campground. Day-use parking is $3 Fridays through Sunday and on holidays. Camping at Cresap Bay is $21 per night; reservations are required.

• Stare into a volcano.

Mount St. Helens Johnston Ridge Observatory, 24000 Spirit Lake Highway, Toutle;

As you drive up state Highway 504 from Castle Rock, stop at Coldwater Lake, which offers an accessible boardwalk stroll, picnic area and boat launch. The 1980 eruption created this serene lake. Once you reach the observatory at the end of Highway 504, you’ll find the entrance and some of the trails are paved but somewhat steep. From the outdoor amphitheater, you can look directly into the volcano’s crater and behold the barren, blast-zone landscape. There’s an $8 day-use fee, but the observatory also accepts the lifetime federal Access Pass available to those with a permanent disability.

Other ADA recreational opportunities within Washington State

The state of Washington has long been a leader in providing accessible outdoor recreation. From ADA-compliant campsites, to restrooms, trails and docks, Washington State Parks is committed to making outdoor recreation accessible to all people.

This interactive map from Washington State Parks will help you find the ADA features that are important to you. First, search by ADA feature, then select the park in the area you would like to visit.

When searching for multiple features, only the parks that have all the selected features will come up in the results.