Walking, jogging, biking or rolling in a wheelchair, alone or with family, friends or pets, the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail provides a nice sampling from east to west in Vancouver. At eight miles in length, the determined user can travel the length of the trail or just hop from park to park. Along the way, find a little exercise, a little history, and varying landscapes to enjoy. If you live in Vancouver there’s an entrance to the trail not far from where you are.

Trail at St. Johns, around the corner is a delightful forested creek area. Photo credit: S.K. Heglin

The path is paved the entire way, flat much of the way, and does have a few discontinuities in the form of road crossings, most notably over I-5 and St. John’s Road, but then will drop down into areas with good cover and few visual distractions so the user can imagine being closer to nature than suburbia.

One thing that can be counted on when traveling the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail is diversity.  While the paved path is consistently 10-12-feet wide, some areas the easement isn’t much wider than the trail and others have a rim-top to rim-top creek valley view. It goes through thickly forested areas, by apartment buildings, along creeks and through open areas with wildflowers or thickets. The trail goes up and over the surface roads and under highways, with walls of rock and chain fence. Some areas follow the power lines. While it’s easy to walk in solitude on the trail, there are parts, such as the Andresen crossing, that may be crowded, especially in the summer time.

The History of Burnt Bridge

The trail has been put together over decades. The “burnt bridge” burned down perhaps before an official bridge was built in 1899, replaced in 1895, again in 1922. The basin primarily functions as a drainage from the suburban areas around it. Because of this utilitarian attitude toward the creek, the water quality deteriorated to the point that it fell below the Washington Department of Ecology standards.

Burnt Bridge Creek Trail 90th trailhead
The Burnt Bridge Creek trailhead at 90th is subtle and easily missed. Photo credit: S.K. Heglin

“There are stories people could catch fish at Leverich Park, but the water quality isn’t as good as it used to be,” explainsTerry Snyder, landscape architect for the City of Vancouver,  noting, “I’m sure it’s a whole lot better than it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s.”

Where the path crosses Fourth Plain Road to 86th is what used to be known as “The Lettuce Fields.” Building the creek in this area was meant to drain the swampland and make farmland.

“Through that area it was very channelized, straight and narrow,” continues Snyder. In early 2000 the City Stormwater Department bought the property between Devine road and 86 for storm water management. That area was redesigned. Part of that process was making it more natural looking.

“A good share is owned by the Surface Water department of the city,” says Park Planner & Project Manager Monica Tubberville. “We kind of share that corridor.”

Burnt Bridge Creek Trail wells fargo at arnold park
Volunteers from Wells Fargo working with the Watershed Alliance to plant trees at the Arnold Park area. Photo credit: Watershed Alliance of SW Washington

“We had the perfect opportunity,” adds Annette Griffy, engineering manager for the Surface Water Management Team in Engineering Services with the City of Vancouver.  “Parks was looking at putting in a trail and the surface water utility was looking at mitigation and a greenway. We really needed to coordinate it.”

So a partnership was formed between the Parks department and the storm water and engineering departments for making the best and highest use of the city property.

For the last ten years the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington has been engaging volunteers from throughout the community in tree planting events along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail at Arnold Park, Leverich Park, and at the trail entrance at NE 65th and E 18th to restore the watershed and improve water quality of the creek.

There’s also a Greenway Sensitive Lands Group through the City of Vancouver that manages the creek area, operating a greenhouse to propagate native plants for the hundreds of acres of greenway and mitigation sites.

The Trail Today

Burnt Bridge Trail Highlights

Stewart’s Glen in Fruit Valley, follows along the creek and on the eastern shores of Vancouver Lake.

Leverich Park (16 acres) goes back to the 1930s. This is a mecca for disc golfers.

Bagley Park (15.3 acres) is highly developed for youth and adult sports leagues.

Meadow Homes Park has been upgraded in the last few years to include new play equipment for the kids.

David Douglas Park (88 acres) is just north of Mill Plain from the Andresen crossing. It has ball fields and open grass area.

Meadowbrook Marsh (11 acres) offers a neighborhood park plus some undeveloped area.

NE 90th Avenue and Burton Road is the east end trailhead. (Note that there is no parking as the trailhead is on 90th).

With the help of various groups, the water quality has been improving and in the bottom part of the creek Coho salmon, and steelhead can be found.

The City of Vancouver also tries to balance of citizen’s needs for natural areas with playgrounds and playfields, offering self-motivated exercise such as biking and running, with structured  exercise such as participation in ball games. The littlest users and mobility limited users are considered, too.  Burnt Bridge Trail users can have it all, using the trail but planning the developed park areas as a destination.

Users will each find a part of the trail that resonates with their own definition of “great outdoors.”

“It doesn’t take much to step off the main, busy road and you’re in the trees.” Said Griffy.  She comments that in the summer stepping under the heavily canopied area one can enjoy the change of temperature. “I enjoy the bridge crossings and looking for heron.”   Another favorite area of Griffy’s is Headache creek, off Falk Road where there’s a nice second growth forest.

Snyder has his favorite areas, too. “The two prettiest areas are the lower end at Fruit Valley road and the west mile.  “It’s nice, the most natural part of the whole creek.” Also east of St. John’s Road.  “It really looks like a forested creek.”

There are restrooms off Devine road and more at Vancouver Lake and most of the parks have restrooms open late spring to fall. The best parking is at NE Bernie Dr. for the west end,  Leverich park, at Devine road and 18th, and at  the Andresen crossing.

“The long term goal with the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail is to connect to Lacamas Lake and then to Vancouver Lake.  It’s called the ‘Lake to Lake Trail.’” Said Tubberville.   There are no plans under development for this trail at this time.

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