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The renderings of the planned Columbia River access project were presented during a December open house.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF ST. HELENS - A new rendering shows the recreation hub of the St. Helens Riverwalk Project. Residents of St. Helens will have a much better sense of what the new Riverwalk will look like when the ambitious project is finally completed.

That's because updated renderings of the project were unveiled to the public during a Dec. 15 open house held at the St. Helens Recreation Center on Old Portland Road.

Several stations were set up throughout the gym to show the public various components of the project.

Project consultants and city staff were on hand to answer questions and receive feedback.

The St. Helens Riverwalk Project was launched in March 2021 as a two-phase project. The intent is to provide public access along the Columbia River from Columbia View Park to Plymouth Street and Nob Hill Nature Park, a stretch approximately half a mile in length.

The first phase encompasses the complete design and construction of about 300 feet of public riverwalk and a new amphitheater stage.

To be built at a future date, the design of Phase 2 will be coordinated with existing plans to extend South First and Strand streets into the former Boise Cascade Co. veneer plant property, which St. Helens purchased in 2015.

Jenny Dimsho, associate planner and community development project manager for St. Helens, explained how "stations" were set up for the public to learn about the Riverwalk plans at last month's open house.

One station was dedicated to what will happen within Columbia View Park. Another station addressed what is called the Rocky Beach area. A third station highlighted the "recreation hub" planned at the southern end of the project.

Dimsho described the showcase as "exciting," noting that about 55 people were recorded in attendance.

"We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout," Dimsho said.

Describing the Riverwalk's recreation hub, Dimsho said, "This is an area where we want people to actually be able to get down to the water and be able to launch kayaks and canoes."

Dimsho said there will be a ramp down to a floating dock. The ramp and dock will be ADA-accessible, and they will be designed to be able to easily get into the water with your boat.

"Also at the recreation hub, we want to install restroom facilities," Dimsho said, noting there will be a cantilevered boardwalk that will make you feel as if you are standing over the Columbia River.

Benches, picnic areas and shade trees will be featured. Restoration planting work will take place along the river's edge.

The recreation hub will be located at the very south end of the former veneer plant property, right next to the old railroad trestle bridge. Dimsho notes you'll be able to access Nob Hill Nature Park from the Riverwalk trail at the recreation hub.

Concrete seats will be featured at various points along the Riverwalk where you can sit and enjoy views of the Columbia River.

Explaining the Rocky Beach portion of the Riverwalk, Dimsho described it as an area where people will "be able to go to the river and actually hang out for a while. This is an area where you might bring your lunch and sit down."

Dimsho said, "At the center of the Rocky Beach, there is an existing concrete remnant from the old mill that floats up and down the water. We want to incorporate that element into the Rocky Beach. It will be designed with a series of landings that you can step down and get to that existing concrete remnant in the water."

She added, "Rather than just remove it, we thought that was a cool way to incorporate the old mill site and also add some interpretive elements (signs)," she said.

Phase 1 of the project involves changes to Columbia View Park itself.

"This is the part we have the funding to construct," Dimsho said. "It's mostly within the park and a little bit outside of it."

This component of the project starts where Cowlitz terminates into Strand Street. It's about 350 to 400 feet long and will include an overlook — where you can see Mount St. Helens — and concrete seat walls where you can look at the existing courthouse dock area.

A major component of the first phase of the Riverwalk project is to reconstruct the amphitheater stage at Columbia View Park.

"We're going to remove the existing gazebo and construct a new stage for events," Dimsho said. "This stage will have an area for storage and sound equipment. It will have a new dance floor. It will be positioned just slightly back from the existing gazebo."

Dimsho hopes actual construction will begin sometime this year.

"We're hoping to go for bid this summer," she said. "The contractor will prepare a timeline for construction for when they think they will be able to construct it. We're hoping that they'll be able to start construction in 2022."

From what she saw at the Dec. 15 open house, Dimsho was pleased with the public's reaction.

"I think, overall, people were really excited to see this project move forward," she said, noting that public comments are still being compiled. "I think, overwhelmingly, feedback was positive. We were surprised at the turnout for how cold and rainy it was."

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