Stepping Out

Story by John P. Freeman • Photos by John & Marty Freeman

When the weather starts getting better as spring approaches, getting out of the house to relieve cabin fever gets easier. Being outside enlivens your outlook, especially if it has been overcast and rainy. Whether you wish to take a strenuous walk or just a stroll doesn’t matter. Being out is the thing. 

Walking or running in the Pacific Northwest is a dice roll as to whether you will get rained on or not. Walking in the rain is OK with me, but wind and rain together I don’t like. If it is raining, I walk with an umbrella so the combination of wind and rain makes it difficult because either you can’t see, or the wind might turn your umbrella inside out. I usually don’t let the weather deter me from walking.

Willow Grove Beach on the Columbia
This is one of those places where you can roam about. Driving the 8.5 miles from Longview, I wondered if the clearing weather would hold for the short outing along the river. I parked at the westernmost end of the lot. The river’s edge is a good place to jog or walk because farther up on the beach the sand makes it harder to do either. 

I decided to walk on the sand near the river. It was just past low tide that morning so there would be a wider stretch of sand on which to walk.  As I headed east it started to drizzle a little heavier but still that did not put a damper on the whole walk. Walking along, I was reminded there are many pieces of driftwood pieces along the river here. Some of them were great gnarled things. The rain let up. From my starting point, it is about half a mile to the boat launch parking lot. I decided to return by the asphalt path passing many roof-covered picnic tables surrounded by pine trees and here and there, fire pit sites. There were a few others out walking and exercising their dogs. I introduced myself to two women throwing balls for their dogs to chase. They let me take their picture. There are two sets of playground equipment along the path in case you have children with you. But just being outside for 40 minutes, watching the river flow by and getting some exercise made the outing worthwhile.

In St. Helens
Nob Hill Nature Park is a tiny park in St. Helens, Oregon, located on a small bluff looking out toward the Columbia River. Having a map with directions to get there is a good idea (From Columbia Blvd, turn right onto 18th Street, then left onto Old Portland Rd, then take a slight right off Old Portland Rd. onto Plymouth, a total distance of 1.5 miles from Hwy 30.) 

The view from the bluff is obstructed by city and industrial  buildings, but the park is a place for a good stroll. As the trees and bushes begin to fill out with new foliage, you will see wild flowers, white oak trees, birds flitting about among the branches and poison oak (so be careful). My wife and I were the only people there. The dirt paths wander through the park, with some exiting onto neighboring streets. Volunteers plan a work party on April 6 which should help this “diamond in the rough” shine brighter.

A good stretch for a stretch
If you want to stretch your legs either by walking or running, the Coweeman River Trail provides a long and flat route. The entire trail, mostly a gravel path, runs 7.5 miles from Allen Street east of Kelso High School all the way to Talley Way by the Tennant Way interchange. I had never walked this trail before and thought it was time to try it. I got on the trail near Grade Street at the South end of the Three Rivers Mall parking lot. From  there to Allen Street is about 2.5 miles following the Coweeman River. You walk under the I-5 freeway past Tam O’Shanter Park, Kelso High School playing fields, and an RV Park, where the trail ends at Allen St. There are no trees or bushes along the trail, but I saw some ducks on the river.  If you drive and park at the Mall as I did, you have to retrace your steps because it is not a loop. So my walk was about five miles. Having someone let you off where you want to start and pick you up where you want to end your walk would  be ideal. 

Longview’s jewel
Lake Sacajawea in Longview has a gravel path all the way around. In addition to mile markers, kilometer markers have just recently been added. Because of all the streets crossing the lake at various places, you can tailor your walk anywhere from three-fourths of a mile to 3.5 miles. Occasionally I have seen Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, and river otters. New pink blossoms on the Flowering Plum trees and blossoms on one early-blooming rhododendron can be seen now. 

Pick your site for running, walking, or strolling. Then get out and enjoy the outdoors. If you’re like me, you’ll be glad you did.


Longview native John Freeman is a retired high school math teacher. He can be found most mornings walking around Lake Sacajawea. He also enjoys travel,  music, opera, bridge and cooking.