Historic, secret Radar Ridge boasts exceptional view

Radar Ridge, located off State Highway 4, is Naselle's best-kept secret. On a clear day, the view from the top is breathtaking, and it has become a favorite spot of many residents for afternoon picnics or weekend campouts.

There is, however, a history behind Radar Ridge that goes beyond a mere unique, panoramic view of the Naselle Valley, the Columbia River and the Pacific Coastline.

Many deserted old buildings on the summit are a reminder of a time when the mountain was a fully manned Aircraft Control Warning (AC&W) operation by the U.S. Air Force. It was known as Western Air Defense Command, and the call sign at Radar Ridge was "Ground Photo Timothy".

Shortly after World War II, in the early 1950s, the U.S. government became increasingly concerned about a perceived Soviet military threat the United States. The new age of nuclear fear was the beginning of a "Cold War" era that was to last for several decades.

Radar's 759th AC&W command searched out to sea for aircraft and alerted, or "scrambled" fighter planes to check out any unidentified aircraft. The radar operation post also became the site for radar weapon testing of U.S. aircraft and as well as "war games" for practice in case of enemy attack. It was one of three radar posts positioned along the Washington coast in a 360-degree search pattern.

"We had some thrilling moments up there," recalls one Naselle resident, Ervin Hauck. "There was one time our operation was running intercepts when we locked onto one of our tankers," he said. "All of a sudden people started bailing out of it. There was a lot of confusion as ground control watched the plane come in lower and lower. We discovered later that the plane had an internal fire aboard."

The barracks that housed the intrepid airmen is today the site of the Naselle Youth Camp, a state juvenile rehabilitation institution. The youth camp administration building is the same one used by the Air Force, although it since has been remodeled. The oldest lodge at the youth camp was the Air Force's Bachelor Officers Quarters.

The mission at Radar Ridge was maintained until about 1964, when the federal government turned the land over to the state. Satellite and radar equipment for area businesses still occupy a part of the summit.

Today, the area around Radar Ridge, maintained by the Department of Natural Resources and youth camp work crews, has become a recreational spot for many local residents who enjoy the trip to the Ridge for the view, but increasingly come into the area to camp as well.

On the way up to the ridge, travelers can now enjoy Western Lake and Snag Lake, both developed over the years by the DNR crews and stocked with fish. Primitive campsites are available and open to the public. The trails and bridges that go around the lakes and into the woods make perfect daytime trips for hikers.

The trip to Radar Ridge summit is about seven miles – straight up. The lake campsites are about halfway up. The gravel road leading to the summit, bumpy and steep at times with many turns, should be driven slowly – but the view, once there, is truly something to behold.