Captain William Clark Park
Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach is located in scenic Washougal, Washington on property owned by the Port of Camas/Washougal. Clark Park, once known simply as "Cottonwood Beach," commemorates the historical site where the Corps of Discovery camped for six days while on their journey through this area in 1806.
Located on the Washington side of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 123, Cottonwood Beach is approximately one mile long, upstream of Steamboat Landing and just downstream of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Reed Island lies upstream of Cottonwood Beach.
At the entrance to Clark Park, a large open wooden structure invites visitors down into the Park and offers maps and informational signs to help guests gain a deeper appreciation of the history behind Lewis and Clark's expedition 200+ years ago.
The 85-acre park includes walk paths, paved parking, picnic tables, covered cooking areas, a recognition plaza, three restroom buildings, and replicas of Chinookan canoes and Lewis and Clark's dugout canoes. A two-mile long trail on top of the levee at the north side of the Park and just above the Beach offers a scenic stretch for hiking, jogging, biking, and horseback riding. In 1996, then Port Executive Director, Sheldon Tyler expressed his hope that the County could help the Port develop Cottonwood Beach into a park. That idea took shape when, in 2001, the East Clark County Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration Committee was formed to recognize the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's journey through the area.
After substantial evidence was established that proved Lewis and Clark had stayed at Cottonwood Beach, the JD White Co., Inc was called upon to determine how the site could be developed.
In 2001, Clark County, Port of Camas/Washougal, and the cities of Washougal and Camas formed a partnership to create a regional park along the Columbia River at Cottonwood Beach.
Three open houses were held to solicit input from area residents, and the master plan was adopted by the project partners in May of 2002. "The goal was a balance of park development and natural habitat for wildlife and vegetation," said Ron Mah, project manager, with JD White.
This is one of the few parks in the United States that is named for Capt. William Clark, who drew detailed maps and recorded the dress and customs of the natives encountered by the Corps of Discovery. Capt. Clark's maps have been used by many Native Americans to provide proof of where their ancestors lived.
Lewis and Clark first noticed Cottonwood Beach on November 3, 1805, on their journey down the Columbia River on their way to the Pacific. Cottonwood Beach was voted on to be a place of winter camp, but lost out to Fort Clatsop. In the spring of 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped near present day Cottonwood Beach and gathered provisions for six days from March 31 through April 6, 1806, the longest time the Expedition spent at any one site in Clark County. From this campsite, William Clark also discovered the Willamette River when he led a group of men back down the Columbia. They had missed the river on both their outward and return voyages.
Captain Clark wrote:
"... Passed a Small Prarie on the Stard. Side above, a large Creek opposit qk Sand River on the Stard. Side, extensive bottoms and low hilley Countrey on each Side (good wintering Place) ..." [Clark, November 3, 1805]
"... we proceed on about 2 miles above the enterance of this Seacalf river and imedeately opposit the upper mouth of the quick Sand river we formed a Camp in a Small Prarie on the North Side of the Columbia where we intend to delay one or two days to make Some Selestial observations, to examine quick sand river, and kill Some meat to last us through the Western Mountains which Commences a fiew miles above us and runs in a N.N.W. & S.S.E. derection. ..." [Clark, March 31, 1806]
The "Seacalf river" is now called the Washougal River, and across the Columbia the "quick Sand river" is now simply called the Sandy River. The "Western Mountains" are the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. While Captain Lewis remained at Cottonwood Beach campsite, on April 2-3, 1806, Captain Clark led a party of men back down to Columbia to look for and explore the "Mult-no-mah" River (today's Willamette River), which the Indians had told them existed.
Note of interest: Lewis and Clark's previous campsite was downstream at Jolie Prairie, the area which would someday be the home of Fort Vancouver. Their campsite of April 6th and 7th, 1806, was in the Sheppard's Dell, Oregon area.