2016 Fort Vancouver Run – An historical preview

Soldiers from Battery C, 3rd US Artillery in formation at Fort Vancouver in 1860. (Image IIISC-89759, National Archives and Records Administration)

Clark County, Washington has become a real hotspot for road races, and a large number of them run in and around the Fort Vancouver area. One of the best of these is the namesake event, The Fort Vancouver Run. This year’s race takes place on Sunday, March 6th. As Geli described in her earlier Run Oregon preview, the Fort Vancouver Run is a fun and well-organized 12K / 5K that takes advantage of the Fort paths, the surrounding neighborhoods, the Land Bridge over the highway, and the Columbia River waterfront.

With so many races taking place at Fort Vancouver, I thought it would be interesting to learn a little about the history of the fort and the pedestrian land bridge over SR 14 that The Fort Vancouver Run and many other races incorporate into their courses.

While we tend to assume that places named “Fort” were U.S. Military facilities from the start, Fort Vancouver was actually originally built in 1824-25 as the headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company and served as their supply hub. It was the most significant settlement between San Francisco and Alaska. Think of it as the of early 19th Century fur trading. In addition to the fur trade, the fort also supported widespread agriculture and early industry, like lumber and salmon.

In 1849, the U.S. Army established a military post just north of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort, originally known as Camp Vancouver. It was the first U.S. Army post in the Pacific Northwest, and played crucial roles during the Civil War and Indian War. Several famous military men were stationed there, including Ulysses S. Grant. In 1948, some of the area was ceded to the National Park Service, and the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site was created.

The Land Bridge over SR 14, designed by Maya Lin.

The Fort Vancouver Run 12K course runs through both the U.S. Army portion of the park (Officer’s Row) and the original Hudson’s Bay Company Fort grounds. Both the 12k and the 5k also run over Maya Lin’s Land Bridge, part of her amazing large scale Confluence Project, celebrating the Columbia River and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Completed in August, 2008, the Land Bridge spans State Route 14, linking the fort with the waterfront and providing a pleasant route for walkers, runners, and racers. It has been a boon to race directors, who make use of the bridge in many local races.

Recreations of Native American ideograms cast sunlight and shadow on the walls of the Land Bridge.

Maya Lin incorporated many historical and cultural references in the bridge’s design, including a Welcome Gate created by Lillian Pitt, native plants, and woven baskets. Some of my favorite features are the sculptures that project ideograms from various Pacific Northwest native languages in sunlight and shadow. If you’ve only crossed the Land Bridge at race pace, it’s worth taking it in at leisure to appreciate all the detail.

Keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day at the Fort Vancouver Run, so you can appreciate the full effect of Maya Lin’s Land Bridge design.

The Fort Vancouver Run is a great event in itself, but it also provides a great excuse to visit an interesting and historical area.

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