Last week my sister invited Matt and I to lead a 4-H herpetology and conservation event. For the site we chose Trojan Park and the area surrounding Welter Cemetery.
The Welter family moved here from Luxemburg in the 19th century and lived on 400 acres of land rented from the railroad, which was later transferred to Trojan Powder Company (a gunpowder and dynamite manufacturer) in 1916, though the family continued living there.
In 1967 PG&E chose the site to build a new nuclear power plant and the Welters left. The plant was completed in 1976 but faced design problems and public opposition from the start. In 1992, a crack in the steam generator led to a radioactive water leak and the plant was shut down for the last time. After an expensive transfer and storage of the nuclear waste and demolition of the cooling tower, we were left with the park we have today.
All that time the Welter Cemetery remained active just across from the plant. When we showed up on this day with the 4-H group, the Welters themselves were there! Two of family’s matriarchs had arrived to tend the grounds. We were blessed to see them and Matt explained the 4-H project and our larger Wild Columbia website.
Once everyone from the 4-H group had arrived, I gathered together about fifteen adults and kids to talk about the habits and habitats of amphibians in Columbia County. I shared how to search for amphibians, including the careful replacement of rocks and logs in order to maintain habitat integrity. Then I sent them into the surrounding area to see if they could find some amphibians themselves. The kids looked under rocks, inspected logs, and searched the stream. Eventually they turned up 3 Dunn’s Salamanders, 4 Western Red-backed Salamanders, and a Northern Pacific Treefrog. One young lady even caught a Red-spotted Garter Snake!
After the search we gathered to discuss what we had seen. It was notable that we found amphibians on land but not the sensitive stream amphibians such as Coastal Giant Salamanders, Columbia Torrent Salamanders, and Coast Tailed Frogs. Despite the stream’s beauty, there was a lot of mud and sediment in its flow. I explained to the group that the extra sediment was likely a result of development and logging in the hills above the stream, and made it difficult for stream amphibians to survive.
Next we drove the cars across the highway for the reptile portion of the event. The lakes of Trojan Park have little inlets and coves that are great places to spot turtles and snakes sunning on logs and banks.
On the way to the target, we saw frogs sitting in the lake’s shallows.
As a group we talked about the heat requirements of reptiles as well as how they avoid detection. Then we discussed the difference between native species and introduced species, and how non-native species like Red-eared Sliders and American Bullfrogs threaten local wildlife. I sent the kids out again to see what they were find. Turtles were abundant!
In closing we discussed the Wild Columbia website and our Columbia County Reptiles and Amphibians iNaturalist Project. Some of the kids (and adults too) plan to keep looking for reptiles and amphibians in their area and recording them on the site, and may combine their experiences into a 4-H presentation.
I can’t end a Trojan Park post without highlighting the wonderful bird life there. Ducks, geese, and herons roamed the waters while ospreys and pelicans flew overhead. Songbirds were abundant on the lake’s edge as well as in the trees surrounding it. Even in the short time we walked to and from the site we saw quite a few bird species.
As I was busy with the 4-H event I didn’t take many pictures of flying birds, but two days earlier I had checked the site (in less sunny weather) and had the opportunity to photograph several birds in flight.
Welter Cemetery and Trojan Park at a glance
What: walking, lake, fishing, birdwatching
Where: Just off of Highway 30, 4.8 miles south of Rainier or 13.6 miles north of St. Helens, at 71760 Columbia River Highway (46.0360, -122.8936).
Hiking: A short bit of walking on Old Columbia River Highway adjacent to Welter Cemetery and a 1.6 mile loop trail around the lake at Trojan Park
Notable Wildlife: Bald Eagle, Osprey, Swans, Canada Geese, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, other waterfowl, wading birds, turtles, frogs, woodland and pond salamanders
Property status: Portland General Electric
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