Classic American small-town charm with wild Pacific Northwest beauty is embodied best in Camas, Washington. Situated along the Columbia River within the greater Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, Camas has a picturesque and economic appeal for growing families and nature lovers wanting to escape big cities without losing a high standard of living.
Living In Camas
The evolving city of Camas boasts a strong economy, low crime rate, and excellent schools, but what makes it special is what makes all cities special: the land. Camas sits on 5,000 square miles dotted by five lakes, two rivers and over a dozen parks. La Camas Lake is a popular spot for Sunday afternoon grilling or a leisurely kayak trip without having to leave the city. The park also has a network of trails leading to waterfalls formed from the drainage of La Camas Lake Dam that has become a popular swimming spot called the Potholes. The Lake trails also lead to the Camas lily fields, the flower that inspired the name of the city.
Dominating the western half of the city is Prune Hill, a dormant volcanic hill that used to grow prune orchards. Prune Hill has replaced its orchards with beautiful homes boasting scenic views of Mt. Hood, the Columbia River, downtown Portland, and surrounding areas. The elevated neighborhood has a clear view to watch storm clouds roll in over the expansive Columbia River, only to later dissipate and sunlight reflects again on the water in the ever-changing weather patterns of western Washington.
Only a short drive from Prune Hill or La Camas Lake sits downtown Camas, where small-town charm is realized. Filling the historic buildings of downtown Camas are coffee shops, boutiques for fine shopping, legendary antique and specialty shops to make a stroll through the town leisurely fun. Lounges and artisan restaurants are available for the sophisticated palates, and the restored 1927 Liberty Theater shows old and new movies for the whole family and film buffs alike. Prune Hill Realty specializes in unique residential area homes from vintage to new construction. The Camas Hotel offers a boutique and vintage experience for staying overnight to enjoy some of the signature small-town events Camas hosts, such as scavenger hunts, Small Town Summer Fun festivals, Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies, art shows, and car shows, to name a few.
The city government established a Downtown Visioning Committee to spearhead ideas for further developing the heartbeat of the community. This Committee formed the Downtown Camas Association, which works toward creating a vibrant social, cultural and economic center out of historic downtown Camas while losing nothing of the city’s historic features and value, and they’ve been wildly successful so far. Several Camas neighborhoods have private homeowner associations to enrich the living experience as well.
Schools & History
The high school sports teams are called the Papermakers, and the reason behind the name lies on the west end of town. Towering above the stone historic buildings of downtown is a Georgia-Pacific paper mill, a fact that would have The Office’s Michael Scott wanting to move to Camas. Georgia-Pacific owning the mill is a late 20th-century ownership change, but the mill dates back to the 19th century and is older than the city. The mill was first founded with the support of Henry Pittock, a wealthy entrepreneur from England who had settled in nearby Portland, where he published The Oregonian.
The city’s history starts with the mill. The La Camas Colony, founded by Pittock, bought 2,600 acres of wild land in the then Washington Territory in 1883, forming the Columbia River Paper Company the following year to begin production two years later. In the nineteen-teens and the decade that roared, the Camas-based business merged with three other paper companies, becoming the largest paper company on the West Coast, acquiring the name, Crown Zellerbach, nicknamed “Crown Z.” The mill changed from newsprint to toilet tissue in 1930, but during World War II it participated in the war effort by producing shipyard parts. By the 1970s, “Crown Z” was the area’s biggest employer, but after several more mergers took place in the following decades, Georgia-Pacific’s mill was the sole property of Koch Industries and starting in 2018 the mill’s employment numbers started falling.
The paper mill established a legacy for Camas of attracting quality companies to the area. Several high-tech companies have chosen Camas to do business, such as Sharp Microelectronics and Sharp Labs of America, Linear Technology, Wafer Tech, Underwriters Laboratories, Fisher Investments, and others. The ability to maintain a strong economy by diversifying the industries operating in the city has saved it from the declining employment formerly offered by the paper mill, keeping the standard of living high and the school systems competing. The flourishing employment opportunities keep the median income per household high for a small Washington city, over $60,000 and over $64,000 for families.
Three high schools, three middle schools, and seven primary schools serve the area’s families. Due to the affluence and tight-knit feel of the city, the schools enjoy positive ratings online and in the community.