When it comes to places where the communities are close, the land is fruitful and the living is affordable, Central Washington fits the bill. Here in Grant County, from Grand Coulee to Ephrata, Quincy to Moses Lake, Warden to Mattawa and elsewhere, this sentiment certainly holds true.
Across the region, there are just as many cities and towns that are ideal for retirees as there are locations perfect for raising a family. While manufacturing and technology jobs have increased here in recent years, much of the economy is still driven by agriculture — something that plays a big role in Grant County’s history.
As for recreation, the great outdoors is what stands out here. There are endless activities to enjoy along the Columbia River, at area lakes and in the parks and wildlife refuges. Let’s take a closer look at the appeal of Grant County and Central Washington for visitors and residents alike.
The seat of Grant County, Ephrata was exclusively home to Native American tribes until settlers arrived in the early 1880s. As in many parts of the country, the railroad industry gave Ephrata a boost, but even by 1892 the city was still just called “Station 11.” Legend has it that “Ephrata,” meaning “fruitful” in Hebrew was chosen as the city’s new name because of all the fruit orchards.
The need for irrigation water sparked the creation of the Grand Coulee Dam, completed in the early 1940s and expanded in later decades. Today, the dam (in Grant and Okanogan counties) is the largest concrete structure and producer of hydropower in the United States. It’s also a popular tourist attraction.
But even as settlements and industry grew, Grant County has always been conscious of preserving the cultural heritage of the area’s original inhabitants, the Wanapum. The story of these native people along the Columbia River (Wanapum means “River People” in English), is immortalized at the Wanapum Heritage Center. In fact, every October the county’s schools visit the center for the fun and interactive Archeology Days experience.
In addition, the Grant Public Utility District (PUD) continues to work with the Wanapum to protect the Columbia River’s natural resources, and the native artifacts. Projects such as the Priest Rapids Dam are part of this, along with providing extensive recreation spots on Grant PUD lands and waterways.
The Columbia River is in many ways the backbone of Central Washington, including here in Grant County. While it serves many purposes, the river and its lakes and reservoirs may be most popular for the recreation they provide. Anglers head to the waterways for migratory salmon and lamprey, local walleye, bass and sturgeon and other fish. But that’s just a small part of the outdoor adventures available in the region.
If you’re a big game hunter, deer are prevalent here but Grant County is mostly known for some of the best upland bird and waterfowl huntingin the nation. The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Othello (40 minutes southeast of Ephrata) offers some good hunting spots, along with fishing, hiking and picnic areas.
In fact, there are several different state parks and recreation areas in the county. Potholes State Park is next to the Columbia Refuge and 15 miles south of the popular Moses Lake. Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area near Coulee City is made for camping and boating, while nearby Banks and Rufus Woods lakes are ideal for fishing and wildlife viewing. But you might start by hitting all the stops along the Grant PUD Recreation Area.
Taking the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway is the best way for birders to spot more than half of the state’s bird species, while the Beverly Sand Dunes ORV Area offers 300 acres of hills for ATV riding. Once you’ve conquered that, head an hour NE to Moses Lake for ten times the dune acreage!
After you’ve experienced the beauty of the parks and waterways, you may want to seek other forms of recreation and relaxation. Given all the farmland in Grant County, farmers markets are common in most communities, along with plenty of wineries. The county even provides a guide that compiles the best golf courses and wineries in the area.
If you love live music, head to The Gorge Amphitheatre, a 20,000-seat, outdoor concert venue with scenic views in George. Or enjoy local community theater productions in nearby Soap Lake at the Masquers Theater. The Grant County Fairgrounds offers all kinds of events, from rodeos to wrestling to music and more.
Find fun for the whole family at Surf ‘N Slide Waterpark in downtown Moses Lake. It features a surfing simulator, lazy river and water slides. Lastly, for a unique getaway, check out Soap Lake in the town of the same name. Originally called “Smokiam” meaning “healing waters,” the mineral-rich lake is still promoted today for its medicinal values.
There’s a whole lot to do here in Ephrata, throughout Grant County and in Central Washington’s surrounding counties. Come discover for yourself!
Sources: Ephrata.org; GrantPud.org; Wanapum.org; Usbr.gov; En.Wikipedia.Org; TownOfCouleeDam.org; TourGrantCounty.com