Columbia County owns and/or maintains a total of 24 forests, parks and trails, and is committed to enhancing the area’s livability through these services. Parks provide benefits that enhance the quality of life for residents. They increase environmental awareness, contribute to physical and psychological health, boost local economies, and encourage community involvement. The county, located a short distance from cities such as Portland and Longview (WA), is situated to provide outdoor recreational opportunities to surrounding metropolitan communities as well.
The county has unofficially been in the parks business since the 1940s when the first properties, now known as Camp Wilkerson, Hudson-Parcher Park, and Big Eddy Park were conditionally conveyed to the county to be set aside as parks for perpetual use by the public. The county has continued to acquire properties, predominantly through dedications and tax foreclosures, and of 22 owned or leased properties, has developed a total of 15 parks, boat launches, and trails. Parks and recreational facilities were initially managed by the County’s Road Department until 1988 when the Forests, Parks and Recreation Department was created and staffed with one full-time employee to oversee the park system. In 2015 the Parks Department joined with Facilities to become the General Services Department.
Today, the department is staffed with two part-time and two full-time year-round employees, and four year-round and two seasonal park hosts (four of which are volunteers). Over the years, employment within the Parks Department has fluctuated based on the availability of funds. The Department has always operated on a limited budget, and historically, received funding from park user fees, state RV allocation fees, grants, and the county’s general fund. A financial crisis in the early 1990s resulted in program cuts from the general fund, and it was decided that the Parks Department would no longer receive funding from this source. The county gave the Parks Department Carcus Creek Forest to manage for timber, and today, the Forests, Parks and Recreation Department is a self-sufficient entity, receiving funding from user fees, state R.V. allocation fees, grants, and timber revenues. Harvest Management Plan (HMP) options were considered for Carcus Creek Forest to ensure a sustained yield of timber.