The Fort Columbia Interpretive Center at Fort Columbia State Historical Park, just East of Chinook will once again be open to the public throughout August. The center, which has been closed for several years, has received much needed attention, both to its interior and exterior. Visitors who are interested in the history of coastal defense at the mouth of the Columbia River are encouraged to enjoy the exhibits produced by Washington State Parks. Interpretive staff and volunteers will be available seven days a week to welcome guests to the interpretive center, answer questions, give guided hikes, or provide tours of Battery 246.
In commemoration of re-opening the interpretive center I thought it would be appropriate to share a historical perspective of the developments of the once fort, now park. In my research I found a copy of the program that was produced and distributed at the dedication of the state historical park in June 1951. The following was appropriately placed under the heading of "We Preserve Our Heritage."
"The three forts guarding the mouth of the Columbia - Canby and Columbia on the Washington side and Stevens on the Oregon shore - were declared surplus by the army in 1947. At that time the Longview Daily News suggested that two of these abandoned forts would make admirable additions to the Washington state park system. This idea spread and the next year, when Congress enacted legislation enabling the federal government to transfer surplus property without cost to the states, the State Parks and Recreation Commission, at the suggestion of Mrs. Ruth E. Peeler, a commissioner, made application for the transfer of Fort Columbia to the state.
"Finally, in March 1950, after survey and study, the National Park Service recommended that the site be given to the state for preservation as an historical monument, and the transfer was made. Since then, the guard house has been remodeled, roads cleared, a parking lot graded, old batteries cleaned, signs painted and erected, and considerable clearing and ground improvement, including a work-day sponsored by the Ilwaco Junior Chamber of Commerce, has also been done.
"Conversion of the hospital into an interpretive museum in which the rich history of the Lower Columbia area will be interpreted through exhibits, charts, maps, dioramas and displays will be the next park project. This will probably take another two years of work."
The program continued with a section dedicated to sharing the purpose of the park. As you will see the reasons that the park was created still hold true today over fifty years later.
"Fort Columbia Historical State Park of 285 acres has been added to the Washington State Park system for three reasons:
1) To preserve for public use an exceptionally beautiful piece of shoreline, where one may look across the Columbia River bar to the broad Pacific, historic Astoria, and the hills of Oregon.
2) To mark an historic site that is epic in the annals of Pacific Northwest history and to interpret it properly so that visitors may know the importance of the events that occurred in the lower Columbia area in their relation to the over-all development of the Pacific Northwest.
3) To preserve a typical example of the many coastal forts along the Pacific Coast that, for many years, guarded the western approaches to American shores."
In September 1979, the Chinook Observer described the dedication of the newly renovated interpretive center at Fort Columbia. "After the Ilwaco High school band played and the Cape Disappointment Color Guard presented the flag, the Interpretive Center at Fort Columbia Historical State Park was formerly dedicated. The new and expanded displays enable the visitor to go back in time to experience a bit of what life was like at a military coastal fortification near the mouth of the Columbia River."
Jon Schmidt is an Interpretive Specialist at Cape Disappointment State Park. To contact him, call the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at 642-3029 or e-mail email@example.com.