Two walks in Vancouver Washington

Dates: May 11 & 26, 2022

It’s been a cool and rainy spring here in the Portland area – the wettest April/May in recorded history – so when a break in the weather arrives we try to take advantage. One of our favorite walks is just the other side of the Columbia River from Portland: through the Fort Vancouver Historic Site into downtown Vancouver, then back along the river. The walk ranges from 3½ to 4 miles depending upon how many side excursions you do. If you want more, you can keep walking along the Columbia for at least a mile.

Along the main road in the historic site is Officers’ Row which has beautifully maintained homes where the officers lived when the fort was an active military base. The Grant house is beautiful, but the Marshall House is the one that really grabs my interest. Growing up I heard about George C Marshall – the creator of the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Germany after the second world war. Unarguably, this approach was better than the harsh penalties taken against the country at the end of World War I. President Wilson did not support the punitive measures; but England and France were adamant that Germany would never be able to mount a war effort again. Resentment against the reparations paved the way for Hitler’s rise.

In 2012 – before I started my blog – I read a biography of George Marshall – General of the Army George C. Marshall Soldier and Statesman. Between the wars Marshall revamped the structure and training regimen of the US Army. This effort eased the mobilization and execution of the war effort. Although he had hoped to lead the Allied Expeditionary Force (instead of General Eisenhower) FDR told Marshall (paraphrasing””I just can’t sleep at night knowing you aren’t here in Washington.” Eisenhower’s diplomacy and leadership was critical to the successful pursuit of the war in Europe. Marshall’s efforts and leadership were a big part of the reason the Allies won the war. There is a newer biography: “George Marshall: Defender of the Republic” by David L. Roll which I’ve purchased and is not on my virtual bookshelf. It’s an Editors’ Pick on Amazon and has many rave reviews. As you can tell, George C Marshall is one of my heroes: a true statesman, brilliant strategist, and a principled man.

Okay, back to our walk. The Marshall house was opened for a tour on our first walk.

Marshall House on Officers’ Row at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site

We walked along the other homes before crossing over I5 and heading into downtown Vancouver. Carla and I were gobsmacked by the full scale rebuilding of the riverfront downtown area. We had our first look at the changes in December 2020. Well, I say “look” advisedly, it was cold and foggy so we only got a brief taste of the improvements. Now a year and a half later: Wowsers! The center point is this suspension bridge-like platform over the Columbia River.

Viewing platform over the Columbia River on the Vancouver riverfront.

I found an interesting article about the redevelopment written by Brian Libby in 2018. He compares Vancouver’s approach with retail spaces on the waterfront with Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland which is a – mostly very nice – walkway but is often underused. I’m looking forward to getting Jonah’s opinion next time I see him.

Here’s a view of the aging Interstate Bridge taken from the platform.

Interstate Bridge as seen from the viewing platform in Vancouver, Washington

The Columbia River is a busy throughway. Here a barge is pushing a load downriver as it passes through the open interstate railroad bridge.

Barge moving downriver on the Columbia as it passes through the open interstate railroad bridge

Carla and I had a very tasty lunch at Twigs Restaurant which has enormous windows overlooking the river. We liked this walk so much, two weeks later we took the same walk with Terri and Jim – and even ate at the same restaurant. At that lunch I opined – tongue firmly in cheek – that Twigs missed a bet by not having the view windows overlooking the BNSF railroad line on the other side of the building. That’s right, a main BNSF line runs along the north side of the Columbia River before it turns north and joins Union Pacific rail traffic coming over the railroad bridge from Portland.

On the way back we dodged redevelopment construction as we wended our way on the path under the Interstate Bridge and along the river. Bonus – for me – the path is between the river and the railroad giving me opportunity to grab some pictures.

Looking up at a couple of General Electric ET44C4 locomotives.

A little east of the bridge, a path diverges from the riverfront to rise up and over the railroad and Washington Highway 14 and back to Fort Vancouver. This sculpture marks the entrance.

Sculpture marking the entrance to the path over the highway and railroad and back to Fort Vancouver

The path has an area perfect for train viewing.

Grain train waiting for its entry into the Vancouver terminal.

After crossing under the railroad and over the highway, the path re-enters the Fort Vancouver Historic Site.

Fort Vancouver with Pearson Field in the background

As we entered the grounds we saw this petroglyph which reminds me of those at Horsethief Lake Park I visited on a train spotting trip in 2018. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any signage to describe what we were viewing.

Petroglyph near Fort Vancouver Historic Site.

The path back to the visitor center provides more views of the fort.

Fort Vancouver

Notice how I snuck another train picture into this picture of the fort.

Fort Vancouver, Washington

The fort itself is open for tours but we did not partake – been there, done that (but don’t have the T-shirt).

Many of the other older buildings still exist outside the fort itself.

Old house (?) outside the fort proper at Fort Vancouver

There are also newer buildings I did not take picture of. The barracks are being refurbished; it will be interesting to see them when they are done.

If you live in or around Portland – or plan to visit – I encourage you to take a trip just across the river to Vancouver. Parking is free at the Fort Vancouver and the walk through the park, or into downtown and back is easy. It’s all paved and the biggest incline is the walkway over Washington Highway 14.

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