Tri-Cities Washington: Environment Blossoms in Shadows of Giant Nuclear Site

If you’re into nature, it’s tough not to love the the Tri-Cities area in Washington. Peering out from the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve to Red Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain is inspiring, if nothing else. With the Tri-Cities area beneath you, it’s tough to imagine that you’re looking out onto one of the world’s largest environmental clean-up projects.

The Tri-Cities area in Southeastern Washington includes the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. Earlier this month, The New York Times called our attention to the area, leaving us wanting to know more about the The Hanford Reach National Monument.

In it’s name, it sounds innocent enough. But the monument consumes an environmental nightmare of sorts… the 586-square-mile Hanford Site. Administered by the United States Department of Energy, the Hanford site played a vital role in the development of the world’s first atomic bomb and produced more than half of the United States’ plutonium used in nuclear weapon production through the 1980s.

Now, the Tri-Cities area is home to renowned vineyards, golf courses and rivers – and despite the Hanford Reach National Monument, it’s population and tourism continues to grow.

Jeff Schlegel, a writer for The New York Times article referenced above profiled his journey of the Tri-Cities area and his tour of the Hanford as part of the “American Journeys” feature from the Times.

Here is an excerpt of his, describing the area surrounding the nuclear reactors:

The Hanford Reach National Monument in the arid steppe of south-central Washington is a nature lover’s dream with the Columbia River flowing wide and free below chalk-white cliffs, an abundance of birds, and populations of deer, elk and coyotes…

…The Hanford Reach National Monument, which on a map looks like a crab’s claw clutching the Hanford Site, was left untouched because it was a buffer zone. Recreational activities here include hunting, fishing, hiking and boating, but the park’s Web site warns, “Visitors should be prepared for minimal signing and primitive facilities.”

For now the best way to explore the monument is by boat. Our jet boat tour left the Richland waterfront and whizzed upriver. We stopped to marvel as American white pelicans floated in the air with their nine-foot wingspans. Deer, coyotes and a porcupine in a tree were spotted on the Columbia’s left bank, which is Hanford Site property.

“Plants and insects are found here that don’t exist anywhere else,” said the boat’s captain, Ray Hamilton. “And, no, they aren’t mutations.”

Wildlife and Ecotourism of the Columbia River
If you’re looking for a historical vacation filled with natural beauty and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors – Tri-Cities Washington and the Columbia River may be an excellent choice for you.

m2s photo
The Columbia River, by Matt McGee (pleeker on Flickr)
Used under Creative Commons License

The area is rich in opportunities for hikers, kayakers and nature enthusiasts. In fact, here’s a list of what we’ve been able to discover about the region…

There is a wealth of native trees to the area. One great place to get started is the Yakima Area Arboretum who catalogs their list of trees here. Other native trees of Eastern Washington include:

  • Black Cottonwood trees
  • Interior Douglas Firs
  • Netleaf Hackberry Trees
  • Oregon White Oaks
  • Ponderosa Pines
  • Quaking Aspens
  • Water Birch Trees
  • Western Larches

While we weren’t able to find any zoos in the area, many web sites indlucing the Audobon Society helped us to create a list of native wildlife to the area which include:

  • Black Bear
  • Bushy-Tailed Woodrat
  • California Bighorn Sheep
  • Columbian Ground Squirrel
  • Deer
  • Eastern Washington Coyote
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Nuttall’s Cottontail Rabbit
  • Pacific Tree Frog
  • Side-Blotched Lizard
  • Western Fence Lizard
  • Western Toad
  • Yellow Pine Chipmunk
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Trails, Museums and Expeditions
If you’re looking to head out on foot or paddle the Columbia River or its many tributaries, there are many options for you. The Tri Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau lists out the following options for those looking to learn more about the area’s heritage and ecotourism:

  • Friends of Our Trail
  • Hanford Reach National Monument
  • Historical Presentations
  • Lewis & Clark Attractions
  • Lewis & Clark report
  • Museums & Interpretive Centers
  • Sacagawea Heritage Trail
  • Sacajawea Park Report
  • Sacajawea Report
  • Sokulk Report
  • The Reading Room

Finally, if you’re thinking about kayaking around the Tri-Cities area, look no further than Columbia Kayak Adventures who offers us this information:

There are many locations one can put a kayak in the water near Richland, Kennewick and Pasco. North Richland launches are great for paddling upriver and around the many islands that make up McNary Wildlife Refuge. There are often populated heron rookeries on some of these, plus lots of other birdlife to view.

To paddle around the Yakima Delta, launch on either the east (Marina side) or west of Bateman Island. The delta is an area of islands, channels and wildlife – dear, beaver, herons, hawk and many more can be seen here. The east launch gives access to the west side of Bateman, or you can go up the Yakima into the Chamna area.
Other nearby areas to explore are off any of the riverfront parks, Clover Island, and Yakima River.

The following is a list of launch sites:

    Near Town:

  • Bateman Island: Launch west of Bateman Island for easy access to Yakima Delta; launch east at Marina to go around Bateman into Delta, up or down the Columbia.
  • Leslie Groves: Launch just south of beach area; north or south are good access to Nelson, Gull, and many more islands.
  • Saint Street Dock: Go upriver to go around islands.
  • Above WSU-Tri Cities – Off 1st Street & Waterfront Drive
  • Yakima – Twin Bridges, Van Giesen St.
  • Chiawana Park
  • Clover Island
    Put-Ins (Easy Day Trips):

  • McNary Wildlife Refuge – Off Hwy 12
  • Walla Walla River Delta
  • Snake – Charbonneau Rec Area, Levey Park
  • Hanford Reach
  • Potholes
  • Lake Roosevelt
  • Umatilla Wildlife Refuge

For more information on the Tri-Cities area, please see the following resources:
Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau
City of Kennewick
City of Pasco
City of Richland

One Response to “Tri-Cities Washington: Environment Blossoms in Shadows of Giant Nuclear Site”
  1. Ryan Rose says:

    Thanks for the write up. It’s an area that we’re proud to call home.


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