Vancouver Lake is a lake located in and near Vancouver, Washington. Located just to the west of the main part of the city, and north of the Port of Vancouver, the lake is roughly two miles across and measures around 2400 acres (which makes it, by a handy comparison, about three times the area of Central Park), but is shallow, only a dozen feet deep at its deepest point, and only a few feet deep in most. Of course, these measurements are imperfect, since the lake lies in a wetland area, and it can very in size and depths as the season changes. The lake drains into the Columbia River by means of the originally named "Lake River", a slow moving channel across marshland.

Vancouver Lake can better be explained through explaining some of the geography and geology behind the area: the Columbia River, which is one of the largest rivers in North America, hits what are variably known as the West Hills or the Tualatin Mountains at the north end of Portland, which is also where the Willamette River enters the Columbia. Slowing down as it takes a right angle, the Columbia drops its sediment, forming what amounts to an internal Delta. The products of this action are the Smith and Bybee Lakes and Kelley Point area in Portland proper, Sauvie Island to the north of Portland, and the Vancouver Lake and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on the Washington side of the Columbia. The whole area is a fractal landscape of bays, channels, islands, peninsulas and other wetland features, spread across two states.

That picture has been greatly altered by the presence of European settlement. Starting in the mid to late 1800s, both Portland and Vancouver became major shipping centers for the West Coast. The Port of Vancouver is located just south of the lake, and the construction of cargo terminals and highways has disrupted the natural landscape. On the other hand, the presence of the Port (and the fact that the area is prone to flooding) has prevented residential development of the area. Perhaps a greater threat to the area has been non-point pollution from agricultural and residential development. Clark County was an agricultural region until Vancouver grew into a larger town after World War II. What this means is that the runoff from both dairy farms and suburban highways eventually is flushed into the large, shallow lake that drains slowly into the Columbia. It is not, as you can imagine, exactly the type of place you want to go swimming. However, there is still much wildlife around the lake, and even more so north of it, in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Vancouver Lake is not a major tourist attraction, although it, and the surrounding areas, are well used by locals. This is perhaps due to the pollution problems with the lake, or else due to the location: the area is more dedicated to the industry around the Port of Vancouver, and people wishing to visit must navigate through a stark, industrial area to do so. However, there are still some nice hiking and bicycling trails. However, as I mentioned when discussing Kelley Point Park, I do find the fact that given the large interest in the outdoors and the environment, and the fairly unique nature of the region where the Willamette joints the Columbia, that Vancouver Lake is not more prominent as a natural area to visit and explore. This is probably due to some of the historic environmental damage done to the area, and I hope that in the future, the area is further restored and given due credit as a beautiful, important ecological area.

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