Columbia Springs serves up steady stream of wild things to study

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Columbia Springs’ mission is environmental education. One of its youngest volunteers, Ciara Downey, stuck to that mission Saturday during Family Nature Day as she regaled visitors with facts about the humble crayfish.

“One fact: They pinch. Also, he can swim backwards with his tail,” said Ciara, 7, as she held a crayfish in a small plastic box.

“Wanna see a baby sculpin?” Ciara asked, referring to a small fish.

Her mom, Annemarie Downey, said their family volunteers at Columbia Springs often and participates in salmon releases. On Saturday, they were among a cadre of volunteers who had scooped up aquatic macro invertebrates and placed them in plastic bins filled with water so people could observe them up close.

Andrew Flath, 8, was using a large pipette to suck up water and invertebrates.

“He’s interested in all these little creatures,” said his dad, Christopher Flath.

Andrew’s mom, Jennifer Flath, meanwhile, was a bit unnerved by the caddisfly larvae, which make ornate protective cases out of rocks, wood and whatever they find in the stream — in some cases making them look like a living piece of bark.

The Flath family visits the Water Resources Education Center and Columbia Springs in Vancouver often. They heard about Family Nature Day online. It’s a good place to take kids, Christopher Flath said.

“You see eagles and woodpeckers that you just don’t see in the city,” he said.

Playing in the stream was one of many activities visitors could participate in during the first Family Nature Day of the season at Columbia Springs off Evergreen Highway. The event will be held on the last Saturday of every month through October.

“It’s kind of an excuse to go outside and learn something,” said Kayla Dansereau, event and communications coordinator with the nonprofit.

Drop-in activities are intentionally spread out throughout the property, which has 2 miles of trails, so visitors naturally interacted with nature.

“Hopefully the people can come back and enjoy different things each time,” said volunteer Cliff Anderson. On Saturday, he was teaching passersby about using a fish’s scales to tell how old it is.

At the observation deck in front of Biddle Lake, Melissa Arnold was telling people about the swallows, crows, dabbling ducks and a resident great blue heron named Hank found there.

“We’ve got an extremely dense pocket of wildlife here because of our water,” she said.

Throughout the property, people were hiking, taking part in scavenger hunts and observing fish at the on-site hatchery. Dansereau said the monthly event is geared toward families with children of all ages.

If You Go

• What: Family Nature Days feature a variety of outdoor activities and games.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the last Saturday of each month through October.

Where: Columbia Springs, 12208 S.E. Evergreen Highway.

• More information: Call 360-882-0936 or visit

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