Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Day by the Bay, Part Two: Kilchis Point

Our last stop on this less-traveled section of the north coast brought us to the rowdy bar of Tillamook Bay. This time, we're hiking to a peaceful backwater. Standing beside the glassy water at Kilchis Point and listening to the shorebirds converse in the mudflats, it's hard to imagine that this is the same bay.

Kilchis Point Reserve is located in Bay City, a small village between Tillamook and Garibaldi. Once envisioned as the "San Francisco of the North," this town had its heyday in the 1880s. Fires and a faltering economy gradually took their toll; today the most noticeable features of this bayside community are a store that sells long sticks of pepperoni and a really big pile of oyster shells. One of the least noticeable things is Warren Street, which appears at the south end of town. Turn towards the bay (not uphill) on this narrow, sometimes blocked, residential street, cross the train tracks, and look on your left for the Kilchis Bay Preserve sign. Perhaps someday this will be more clearly marked, but a great many people seem to find it anyway; rain or shine, this trail is popular with literally everyone and his dog.

Park in the small, paved lot. The trailhead provides restrooms, interpretive signs, and a bench with a rustic arbor. The trail has three main sections, as seen on this map. The first section, known as the Trailhead Loop, is easily accessible to all. Wide and smoothly paved, this is a wonderful opportunity for small children and people with limited mobility, passing through a marshy coastal forest for about 1/3 mile. Signs dotted along the way point out native plants and describe details of this area's history.

As a matter of fact, history takes center stage in this 200-acre parcel of wetlands, woods, and mudflats. This is no wonder, given the fact that the reserve is a major project of the wonderful (and sometimes downright odd) Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. While the hiking trails total only about two miles, it's easy to spend hours here just reading the signs and trying to imagine this place in previous centuries.

There was a large Native American village here when Joe Champion arrived in 1851. He lived in a hollowed-out spruce stump until he could get his cabin built. As more white settlers made homes in the area, transportation for supplies became a serious problem. Ship captains would not risk the treacherous bar, and the Coast Range mountains stood to the east. In 1854, local citizens banded together at Kilchis Point to fall trees and forge spikes. The result was Morning Star, a sturdy little ship that could bring supplies from as far away as Portland (a smaller-scale replica of the boat now stands in front of the Tillamook Cheese Factory). The Whitney Lumber Company was headquartered at the Point from 1919-1927, and traces of it remain today in posts and piers. Logs could be tied into rafts here and floated to Garibaldi at high tide.

The coastal climate tends to quickly eradicate any trace of human existence. The trails at Kilchis Point are walled in by thick forest understory. Pause and listen to songbirds, shoreline waders, and tree frogs. Human history in this place has been brief; nothing remains from the pioneers or Native Americans, and even evidence of the lumber company has been almost entirely erased by Nature.

View from the gazebo
For those who can negotiate level gravel trails, there is a second loop and a trail to the water. The latter is not to be missed, wandering through the woods to a level, marshy meadow and ending beside the bay. There is an observation gazebo here, perfect for birdwatching on misty days. Even the more intrepid wheelchair users can access the gazebo, but the path beyond becomes more casual as it enters the tideland. Depending on the current water level, this part of the bay is either a wide mudflat or a shallow backwater. In any case, you will find a variety of shorebirds and ducks. Look for the rotted remains of the lumber company's piers alongside the path.

Despite the marshy location, these trails are fairly dry all year long. There are very few muddy places on even the less-developed trails, and wooden bridges and walkways have been constructed in the lowest spots. The reserve was planned and developed by local people who are well familiar with the wet weather and oft-rising waters of Tillamook County. The next time you find yourself driving along the wide expanse of Tillamook Bay, be sure to stop at Bay City. It may not be what the original developers had envisioned, but it's still a great place to spend some time beside the water.

Trailside benches made from fallen logs
One of the many creeks that run through the swampland
This meadow has been flooded; note the line of driftwood

Note the row of rotted-off pier posts to the left of the trail
Old railroad tracks running near the graveled loop trail

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Day by the Bay, Part One: Barview Jetty

Oregon's north coast is a highly popular place to visit all year long. Highway 26 leads out of Portland, heads over the Coast Range, and ends near touristy Seaside. A short drive north leads to artsy Cannon Beach and historic Astoria. While these are excellent destinations (we like them ourselves), when winter lingers long and we need a getaway, we head for a less-traveled part of the north coast: Tillamook County. Of course, that may entail taking winding, narrow Highway 6. Branching off of Highway 26 near the little town of Banks, it twists and gallops over the hills, roughly following the Wilson River. This route is absolutely worth the drive, road conditions permitting. The wild Wilson is known for its limpid, blue-green water and excellent fishing. In addition, Highway 6 passes through the Tillamook State Forest, which is filled with recreational opportunities. Camp, hike, ride ATVs, mountain bikes, or horses. Stop at the visitor's center. But wait...we were going to Barview!

Whether you take Highway 6 or drive to Tillamook from another coastal town, simply head north up Highway 101. You will drive along the edge of Tillamook Bay, through modest Bay City and salty Garibaldi to Barview. If you should find yourself in Rockaway, turn around. You blinked and missed it!

Barview is an interesting, if tiny, settlement. This area was originally inhabited by the Tillamook (or "Killamook") people, who were known for their skillfully-woven baskets and high-quality canoes. By 1900, the community of Barview had formed on the east bank of the bay. In 1908, the Tillamook Bay Lifesaving Station was built here; in fact it still remains, abandoned and derelict, facing an uncertain future. Meanwhile, Barview became a popular jumping-off point for visitors headed to the growing city of Bayocean. A jetty was built on the north side of the bay, but the south side waited many years for its jetty. In the meantime, Bayocean Spit was breached and the town was lost to the sea. Barview, however, stood strong on its sturdy bank. These days, Highway 101 runs alongside the bay with a strip of railroad tracks in between. Homes perch on the narrow sliver of ground betwixt the tracks and the bay.

Look for a humble street heading seaward over the train tracks to Barview Jetty Park. This county park seems to have been built in fits and starts, but they have included almost everything. Park your RV in a wide-open lot? No problem. Tuck your tent into a cozy, treed hideaway? Got it. Rent a cabin? Got that, too. Camp near the jetty itself, exposed to the wind and spray? Certainly. The scent of the ocean breeze mingles with the aroma of campfire smoke as evening creeps in.

Day-use area #1
Not here to camp? There are also two free day-use areas. To reach the first, look to your left at the campground entrance for a small parking lot. This peaceful stop has views over the bay itself and is a good place to relax and watch fishing boats go by. Notice the tip of abandoned Bayocean Spit across the water. There is an old concrete structure here that makes a good lookout.

Day-use area #2
To find the second day-use area, keep going on the road to your left. You will soon be on the base of Barview Jetty itself. Simply pull up and park alongside the channel to watch ocean swells push past the infamous Tillamook Bar, one of the roughest on the coast. No less than five rivers rush through this relatively small gap, and no photograph can truly capture the power of the wrestling water. While many people walk out the jetty to fish, be aware that large waves can suddenly sweep over and pull you in. Click here for maps of the bay and extensive information on safely fishing and clamming in the wide, sometimes treacherous basin.

Look on the north side of the parking lot for a short trail to a half-mile-long ocean beach. You will also find a little bald hill with viewing benches at the top. Its graveled path is long and smooth, so it could potentially be accessible for wheelchairs. This hillock looks out over low, rolling dunes as well as the beach. Bring binoculars to watch for wildlife.

Barview Jetty is a simple park in an often-missed part of the coast, but the locals and the fishermen know it well. If you plan to stay, be sure to book a spot ahead of time if you can (be aware that its popularity makes for relatively high camping fees). Alternately, try Nehalem Bay State Park north of Rockaway or Cape Lookout to the south. Either way, you will discover the north coast's "Roads Less Traveled."

The sleepy town of Barview in the distance