Business, Pleasure Mix at Port of Kalama

Editorial Staff, March 31, 2013, Longview Daily News

This time of year, hundreds of fishermen are well aware of the Port of Kalama’s recreational opportunities. During the spring chinook run, anglers with boats line up to use the public launch near the port’s office. Others cast their lines from the sandy shore south of the marina.

Economic development — not recreation — is the primary responsibility of a port. But the Port of Kalama has done an excellent job of providing places to boat, walk or fish.

We’re highlighting the port’s recreational portfolio as part of our 2013 series on local parks.

The Port of Kalama’s office is next to its 222-slip marina and a few minute’s walk from its 10-acre day use park. The port used to operate an RV park there, but wisely converted that to grassy fields, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, and picnic shelters. Sturdy wooden stairs lead down to the beach where anglers set their rods into holders and hope for a strike.

Even when runs of salmon aren’t coursing upstream, the port’s nearly 2 miles of walking paths are popular. You can start next to the mooring basin and walk all the way to the grain elevators.

The port’s recreational facilities extend through its north property near the mouth of the Kalama River. A gravel path extends for 1 1/2 miles along the river behind the light industrial spaces. It gets little use despite its scenic value.

There’s more public access on the wooded point, north of Steelscape. People drive four-wheelers to the water over the piles of dredge spoils. A network of user-made trails snakes for several miles through the nearby woods. It’s a remarkably wild place, though just a few hundred yards from the mainline railroad tracks and freeway.

The port has big plans for future recreation, along with industry, for its property east of the freeway along Kalama River Road.

The port wants to eventually develop the land where the Kalama Fairgrounds and athletic fields are currently located, and move those facilities to its 40 acres of land further east.

That parcel has 2,500 feet of Kalama River frontage, which would be kept mostly in a natural condition, said port marketing director Liz Newman. Those developments are a few years off, she said.

However, the undeveloped land with the Kalama River access is open to the public. As elsewhere, it’s well-marked with blue signs; users are asked to get a permit from the port office before using the space.

The port also has plans for an interpretive center near its office that will be a showcase for local history. The first set of bids came in too high, leading port officials to redesig the facility, which will go out to bid again later this year.

Newman said one reason the Port of Kalama has chosen to offer recreation is that in a smaller community, the port is close to its citizens. Recreation is “important to our community and to economic development and to tourism,” she said. In other words, a walking path and boat launch can stimulate the economy, as can a new dock or rail spur.

Not all ports have a physical layout that lends to recreation as well as the Port of Kalama. The Port of Longview once allowed anglers onto its docks, but that ended in the post-9/11 security scare. After a waterfront is developed into docks and industry, it’s much harder to carve out spaces for recreation than if some of the land is allocated that way in the first place.

To its credit, that’s just what the Port of Kalama has been doing for years.

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