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Vanishing Wilderness at Slouth Slough Preserve

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


If there is a "Shangri-La" on Oregon's coastline, Grant McOmie says that he may have found it along the Southern Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

He promises that if you make the journey, you'll discover an off-the-beaten path location with unique sights and sounds that will make you smile.

Perhaps the journey will inspire you to take a closer look at the South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve in this week's "Grant's Getaway."


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Once you travel the Cape Arago Highway that skirts a lonesome and lovely section of the Southern Oregon coast, it will become a roadway once taken you'll never want to leave!

It leads you past so many intriguing sights that you may well wonder, "Why have I never come this way before.""

Fourteen miles southwest of Coos Bay, drop in at Sunset Bay State Park and meet Oregon State Park's Manger, Preson Phillips, who told me: "It's one of those trails that just keeps beckoning you on - it's just a matter of how much you want to hike or do at the time."


Make time to wander Sunset Bay State Park, a jewel of a campground that offers 139 sites for tent, trailer or R.V. - plus eight yurts.


People who come to camp enjoy a spectacular beachfront that seems framed for the movies - it has been a special destination park since 1942.

If you own a spirit of adventure, you'll no doubt relish the hiking trail that leads little more than a mile to nearby Cape Arago State Park.

Many visitiors are surprised to find a front row seat of sorts - a wooden balcony that overlooks Shell Island.


Marty Giles, who owns an eco-tourism business called, "Wavecrest Discoveries" is often on hand to explain the behavior of hundreds of seals and seal lions that just plain loaf across the rocky island and Simpson Reef.

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"Shell Island is a fine place for them to haul out and rest for awhile. There are four different seals and sea lions that haul out here and rest. You really need to come on up and see this show."

You will want to make time to come five miles further up the Seven Devils Road to visit a piece of Oregon coastal paradise that's been preserved since 1974.


The South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve offers a visitor center that introduces you to the area with varied multi-media and hands on exhibits.


Together, the displays put you in touch with a rare piece of Oregon coastal environment according to the center's Deborah Rudd:

"It is undisturbed, it is not developed and you do have more interaction with wildlife here. It's quiet! It's peaceful! And you can picture what life was like many years ago across this southern branch of greater Coos Bay."


There's more than 5,000 acres in South Slough Preserve - approximately 1,000 of that is the slough itself and the remainder is protected upland forest or marshland.

There is plenty of elbow room to explore at South Slough Preserve and there are plenty of trails that take you out and about.

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One of my favorite is called the Hidden Creek Trail - a little over a mile in length that offers a wonderful wooden boardwalk that takes you out over a wetland area where the freshwater creek meets the sea.


In addition, there are many stunning views along the trail, including those from atop a two level deck that looks across a marsh area to the Winchester Arm of the slough.

The preserve is open throughout the calendar year, but South Slough Education Director, Tom Gaskill, says some seasons offer unique surprises for the hearty traveler.


"I'm a birder, so for me this time of year in Fall is the beginning of the most exciting part of the season. We have flocks of waterfowl that pass through here and a lot of the over wintering forest birds too - there are many species that we never see here during the summer, so it's exciting in the winter months to see some of these migratory species that spend summers in Alaska and Canada but they're here for the winter."


"It is a beautiful place whatever season you come to visit," added Rudd.
"You will be amazed and it will be worth your effort to come find us."

Outdoor Tip of the Week

I am always on the lookout for fish and wildlife viewing opportunities that are worth a stop for a longer visit.

Right now, there's a spectacular show for those in the know, but it's a stop whose prime time is passing as Oregon's fall salmon runs hit their peak thru November.


Hatchery personnel across much of western Oregon are up to their elbows this time of year with thousands of Coho salmon that have returned to dozens of Oregon hatcheries.

Sandy River Hatchery Manager Ken Bourne hasn't seen anything like it in 34 years with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.


"It definitely has the makings of being a huge run because we've handled almost 7,000 fish to date and we're nowhere near the normal peak of the return. We're going to be swamped with salmon in another week or two."

Biologists say abundant food in the ocean is the secret behind this year's record-setting return of a million-plus Coho salmon to Oregon rivers and streams.


State hatcheries offer visitors some of the best viewing opportunities in the small creeks that flow through the hatchery grounds.

ODFW's Sandy River Hatchery, Trask Hatchery, Big Creek Hatchery, North Fork Nehalem Hatchery and Bonneville Hatchery are just a few of the state-run salmon facilities that enjoy visitors stopping in to watch the salmon show. Each hatchery is open daily.