By Ryan Hume
For Coast Weekend
Skamokawa [skä• mäk•ə•wā]
1. Just across the river from Brownsmead lies the quaint, unincorporated community of Skamokawa, Wash., in Wahkiakum County.
With less than 500 permanent residents according to the 2010 U.S. Census, this historic river burg on Washington State Route 4 offers an eponymous resort complete with general store and vacation rentals, a post office, a bed and breakfast, an historic steamboat landing and a restaurant named the Duck Inn, which is commonly referred to as “The Duck.”
Placed on the National Register as a National Historic District in 1976, Skamokawa was once known as “Little Venice” because of the construction of the town, which is built facing the Columbia River and incorporates a system of sloughs and creeks to utilize boardwalks, docks and boat traffic. Perhaps this is why the village is still a major destination for kayakers even as roads have replaced water transport and commerce.
From the Chinook, meaning “smoke on the water.” Skamokawa was also the name of the last Wahkiakum Indian chief, who made his home in the area and sold the land to the federal government in 1851.
Unlike the 1972 Deep Purple song, which documents an all-consuming fire at a Swiss casino on Lake Geneva while the British rock band played in 1971 with Frank Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention, who lost all of their equipment in the infamous blaze, the Chinook word refers to the fog that would drift down from the three valleys surrounding the riverfront community to the banks of the Columbia.
“An oil tanker ran aground near Skamokawa, Washington, Thursday morning…. The Columbia near Skamokawa has been the site of several recent groundings…. Petty Officer 3rd Class Levi Read said the Columbia shipping channel is narrow at the river bend near Skamokawa. ‘Not much can go wrong and you can run aground there,’ he said.”
—“Oil tanker runs aground near Skamokawa,” The Daily Astorian, July 6, 2017
“A 751-foot cargo ship from Hong Kong that ran aground in the Columbia River near Skamokowa, Washington, has been pulled back into the channel.”
— Associated Press, “Grounded cargo ship pulled back into Columbia River channel,” The Daily Astorian, Aug. 15, 2016
“The whole Skamokawa valley yesterday resembled a great lake as a result of the recent storms. Damage to the roads and bridges is expected. Sunday about 7:30 P. M. a fir raft containing more than 400,000 feet of logs belonging to the Alger Logging Company broke up and drifted down the Skamokawa creek.”
—“Raft Carries Off Boats: Skamokawa Valley Flooded By Storm With Heavy Damage,” The Morning Oregonian, Dec. 14, 1921