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A survey has just been completed to provide community input on the project along the Columbia River.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF ST. HELENS - An undated aerial view of St. Helens, showing the since-removed veneer plant operations on Boise Cascade Co. property (center-left), as well as the northern part of the Boise Inc. paper mill site (upper right).St. Helens community members want to ensure public access along the Columbia riverfront south of Old Town, according to the results of a May survey.

City officials have been gathering citizen input on its Riverwalk project. While the full survey results haven't been released, associate planner and community development project manager Jenny Dimsho says the message from St. Helens residents is heard loud and clear: public access is most important to the community.

PMG PHOTO: MARK MILLER - People wander along the shoreline of the Columbia River on the Boise Cascade Co. property in St. Helens during a public tour in 2015.Dimsho noted that public access has been included in all of the city's adopted plans for the site, which was used for years by Boise Cascade Co. for its veneer plant. The veneer plant closed in 2008 amid the Great Recession. St. Helens purchased the land, more than 20 acres in all, in 2015 for future development.

"Reconnecting the community to the Columbia River has been a priority since before my time at the city," said Dimsho, who has worked in St. Helens city government since 2013.

While the city is currently in the process of designing the Riverwalk, Dimsho said a design may incorporate a combination of pathways, boardwalks, overlooks, lighting, furnishings, and places for interpretive signage and artwork.

"The entire Riverwalk is approximately a half-mile in length," Dimsho said. "What we're calling Phase 1 is what will actually get constructed in the near term."

Phase 1, according to Dimsho, is approximately 300 feet long — starting at the courthouse docks and extending to the Cowlitz Street right-of-way.

Phase 2 will extend south to the connection of Plymouth Street and Nob Hill Nature Park.

Dimsho said Phase 1 includes a redesign of the city's event space.

"The gazebo feature serves as the central gathering point for events (such as 13 Nights on the River), but the gazebo has shown its age through the years," Dimsho said. "It doesn't have the best sound projection for those events, so we're working on making that better for hosting those types of events."

Dimsho added, "As part of the design and construction of Riverwalk Phase 1, we're also incorporating a new stage or event area."

The Riverwalk will also include an "overlook" feature where people can get off the pathway and enjoy scenic views of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens.

While citizen survey results have yet to be summarized in detail, Dimsho said, "We know residents want to be able to get down and touch the water and actually connect with the water. We know there is an interest for paddle craft launch, areas where people can actually bring their kayaks and canoes into the water."

Phase 1 of the project should be constructed by the end of 2023. The design itself, Dimsho said, should be finalized by about the end of this year.

The project budget for Phase 1 alone is about $1.5 million, according to Dimsho. But of that, $838,500 — more than half the total budget — comes from Oregon Parks and Recreation grants, she added.

While Dimsho can't estimate when the entire project will be completed, she knows how important it is as St. Helens works toward developing the former veneer site along the river.

"This site is an opportunity of a lifetime for a community like St. Helens," Dimsho said. "The Riverwalk, specifically, has the potential to become kind of the crown jewel of the city, the region and even the state.

"I think it has potential to draw in visitors, improve the economic vitality of our downtown, our local businesses downtown, and I think just improve, overall, our capacity to host events for the community, too."

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