Grant's Getaways for April 6, 2013


by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on April 7, 2013 at 10:17 AM


A Perfect Paddle

A clear sky plus brilliant sunshine add up to a March surprise on a recent weekend along the Oregon coast.

It was a perfect time to dive into new adventure on the quiet side of coastal life with Kayak Tillamook’s lead guide, Paul Peterson.

Peterson has been a skipper aboard large fishing boats from Oregon to Alaska, but these days he shows newcomers the perfect paddle strokes that will keep them safe.

Before we got our boat bottoms wet, he demonstrated the forward paddle stroke during our land based prep session: “So in it goes,” said Peterson, who reached forward with the paddle, “and then it’s a push-pull move inside that imaginary strike zone of baseball.”

Our small troop of paddlers prepped for a trip on Netarts Bay, a small Tillamook County estuary that may suit you just fine.

Marc Hinz co-owns and operates Kayak Tillamook with Peterson and he said that the business grew out of a college class five years ago. He added that kayaking tours “just happened” because he was in the right place at the right time and owned the right passion for water.

His business has grown to fill a recreation niche that was missing in the Tillamook coastal communities. He added that the twelve-foot long kayaks are akin to “beginner’s dream boats:”

“You need to know nothing about kayaking because the majority of our tours are built for beginners. If you have ever paddled a canoe, this kayak has similar stability; it’s a bit wider and more stable than ocean-going kayaks too.”

Once the half hour shore based session wrapped up, we dropped in at near-ebb tide at the Netarts Bay public marina to enjoy a winter’s day that was too nice to believe.

Tucked into the comfortable and stable kayak, I followed Peterson and Hinz’s lessons. Soon, I became the master of my boat as I caught on to the basic forward, backward and sweeper strokes.

We wore PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) as Peterson shepherded us along the edge of the bay, (the beauty of the craft is that it can float and maneuver in just inches of water.)

Peterson carried proper safety gear that included a VHF radio and a first-aid kit, and he kept us a safe distance away from the estuary’s rough bar.

It is critical for newcomers to this sport to join experienced professionals like Peterson who know the water well, because conditions on the water can change in a heartbeat and inexperienced boaters can get into unexpected trouble.

Peterson also noted that boating regulations changed recently. Beginning in 2010, all non-motorized boats longer than 10-feet are required to have a ten-dollar Aquatic Invasive Species Permit. The money from the permit helps to develop and manage programs that keep non-native plants and animals out of Oregon’s waterways.

At 2700 acres, Netarts Bay is relatively small in size with no major rivers, but several small creeks that feed into it. Peterson and Hinz agreed that the bay’s high water quality is largely due to its remoteness, small size and more:

“There is no industry on this bay,” noted Peterson. “So, there’s nothing polluting it and it’s all natural. In the wintertime when we have the heavy run-off in the wintertime you’ll see some turbidity, but primarily it’s a clean bay.

“Netarts Bay is one of the most pristine bays on the Oregon,” added Hinz.  It is shallow throughout, no more than 15-feet deep and the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom.

You can see Dungeness crabs crawling across the bottom of the bay, so visibility makes this a nice waterway to paddle and it is a very popular clamming destination too.”

Mila Le and John Vella traveled from their Portland home to join us for a day of paddling on Netarts Bay.  It was just the second time each had tried kayaking recreation. Yet, each felt right at home in the cozy confines of their boats.

“I think most anyone can do it,” said Vella. “It’s amazing how easy and comfortable it feels. It’s pretty natural – as long a you remain calm when the little waves come up and splash you.”

Mila agreed that the wet suited her just fine too: “It’s about as close as you can get to the water without being in the water. It also feels really different from a typical motorboat where you are perched up and looking down into the water. In a kayak you’re so much closer to the water and I like that closeness.”

Kayak Tillamook’s tours reach across six Tillamook County estuaries for a total of 80 miles on bays, rivers, sloughs and backwater areas.

“That’s about 800 square miles of flat water paddling opportunities,” noted Hinz. “Most of which are tidal influenced - but we also have lakes – freshwater lakes and intimate little sloughs that wander up into coastal forests – there’s a lot for us to see and do in a kayak.”

There’s even more too! Hinz offered me a copy of the new Nehalem Estuary Water Trail Map, a hands-on guide produced and published by the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

The guide is free and available to kayakers and other boaters. It is the first in a series of water trail maps that will eventually detail all of the Tillamook estuaries including Netarts Bay.

If you wish to make Netarts Bay a longer stay, consider nearby Cape Lookout State Park, located a few miles from the bay. Park manager Pate Marvin said that the parkland offers 225 sites including rental cabins and 13 yurts.

“You can walk to your hearts content on the beach, said Marvin. “Once you get away from the campground, a mile or two – you’re not going to see a whole lot of people as you hike Netarts Spit – even in the busy summer season – so you can really find peace and solitude and enjoy the outdoors.”

Le and Vella agreed that Netarts Bay is a special place and kayaking offers intimate moments where nature’s touch restores the soul: “The mountains, the water – you can even hear the ocean in the distance,” noted Vella. “There’s so much variety and we’re so fortunate to be able to enjoy all of this anytime because it is so close to Portland.”

Le smiled and added “When you hit it just right, it’s awesome. Everyone should try it.”

Important note – As reported in this story, effective January 1, 2010: resident and nonresident boaters are required to have an Aquatic Invasive Sepcies Permit for paddle craft (drift boats, canoes, kayaks, inflatable pontoon boat, etc.) that are 10 feet long or longer. Registered powerboat owners do not need to buy a permit: they pay a fee when they register or re-register their boats. Revenues will be used to help stop the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in Oregon waters and keep them open for recreational uses.

A Friend to the Critters

One sure way to get to know the Oregon outdoors is to get to know its wildlife a bit better, so this week we catch up with a wildlife champion and friend to the critters at a place you can visit.

Dave Siddon has walked the talk of helping sick and injured wildlife for more than thirty years. He owns and manages “Wildlife Images” near Grants Pass in Southern Oregon.

Throughout his lifetime of study and hands-on practice, Dave Siddon has come to know hawks and eagles and vultures and scores of other sharp-eyed birds of prey very well.

For many years he was a fixture at the Oregon Zoo – even started their raptor program.

Twelve years he decided to go home to Wildlife Images and follow his father’s life’s work rehabilitating sick or injured animals and educating folks.

His father, Dave Siddon Sr., was a well-known figure in the wildlife rehabilitation world. He opened the clinic in 1981 following his own passion for helping cougars and eagles and bears get well and get back to the wild.

Dave Sr. passed away in 1996 following a battle with cancer, and his son promised to dedicate his life to the center’s most important mission.

“When my father was dying of cancer he came to me and said – ‘would you consider leaving the zoo and making sure my place doesn’t die along with me?’ and how do you say no to that? So I came down here and dedicated my life to making sure this place continues to do the good work it does.”

Dave Siddon, Jr was well prepared for the challenge. He worked for Sea World where he trained sea lions and dolphins, he worked at the zoo for a dozen years and he has blazed his own trail into the world of wildlife rehabilitation.

Wildlife Images spreads across 24 acres offering wildlife viewing opportunities at every turn: perhaps a fox, a bobcat, a large brown bear and especially the wildlife that fly.

Siddon noted that some animals come to Wildlife Images from would-be pet owners who realize too late that some critters just don’t make good house pets.

The center receives and treats over 2,500 animals annually, and approximately 90 percent of those that survive their initial injuries are returned to the wild.

The organization’s clinic, nature center, and animal holding facilities are located on twenty-four acres of natural habitat adjacent to Oregon’s famous Wild and Scenic Rogue River, which serves as an excellent location for wildlife release.

Each year thousands of visitors tour the center to see animals ranging from grizzly bears to mountain lions to small arctic foxes and even tiny hummingbirds.

As we strolled past display cages containing coyotes, a badger, porcupines, red foxes, and others, Dave pointed out with pride the close up opportunities that visitors enjoy at an open-air exhibit for bald eagles, turkey vultures, and ravens.

As we walked into the small building, Dave reached over and lifted a large metal window. The opening looked out to a grassy area, dotted with many small native plants and towering trees jutting to the sky.

A fine mesh net draped over the entire scene and prevented the birds from leaving the grounds. “Perfect perches,” I noted as I admired the very natural setting.

Dave then shared more of his father’s vision and passion. “It was my father’s real dream to put together a facility for the bald eagles and other raptors where people can see them without wire and obstructions. They’re such beautiful and majestic birds, you’d like to see them in some sort of situation that mimics what you’d see in the wild.”

Wildlife Images offers unique educational opportunities to schools, organizations, and the general public and conducts tours six days a week year-round. Reservations are required, and the facility is closed most national holidays.

You can visit  - wander with a tour and learn more about the remarkable people that help Oregon wildlife – motivated by Siddon’s simple yet powerful belief: “If you don’t have wildlife it’s not a good place to be.”

The Rugged Edge of Oregon

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area  in winter – except for surf and wind, slows down – that’s easy to understand – few distractions, few folks around…especially along Oregon’s rugged edge of life.

It’s more than forty miles of central Oregon coastline beginning at Waldport and continuing along a southerly stretch of Coastal Highway 101 marked by steep headlands, jagged volcanic outcrops and jaw-dropping scenic drama.

Oregon State Parks Ranger, David Weisenback, said that the sheer beauty of the place surprises many first timers: “It is such a beautiful and unique area – you can hike to the overlooks, the viewpoints, across the rocky shorelines. No matter where you travel in the world, this is still one of the most scenic areas.”

In fact, it is so significant and prized a place that 2700 acres of massive Cape Perpetua is designated a National Scenic Area.  Two miles south of Yachats, Oregon you will find the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and it is open daily.

USFS Manager, David Thompson, noted that atop Cape Perpetua you can turn in any direction for views that surprise and amaze:

“Certainly the coast is the most dramatic the part that captures your attention first,” noted Thompson. “And yet if you turn and look the other way, you’ve got this unbelievably green sitka spruce forest with a wealth of moss and ferns and giant trees – it’s all special.”

The Visitor Center provides a wealth of hiking choices too: over 11 different trails for a total of 27 miles and the wonderful thing is that at one point or another many of the trails inter-connect with one another.

The Captain Cook Trail is wheelchair accessible, leads you from the Visitor Center to skirt the shoreline. At low tide, the trail puts on quite a show as waves crash into rocky crevices and cracks at a place called “Spouting Horn.”

If you wish to wander longer consider the astounding collection of Oregon State Park Waysides with names like Neptune, Ponsler or Strawberry Hill where tide pools invite closer inspection during the ebbing tide.

Nearby, Washburne State Park Campground invites you for an overnight stay where winter campers are welcome in a tent, trailer or r-v.

For those who love to camp, but lack the right gear, Park Ranger Deborah Edwards said to consider renting a yurt:

“Camping in winter can be just as exciting as the summertime, you just have to deal with a bit more rain and a yurt is perfect. You get a bunk bed which sleeps two on the bottom and one on the top, a futon, table and a couple of chairs, plus heat and light.”

Little more than five miles away, another site requires you to take a short stroll on a paved trail and then a quick ride down the face of a cliff for 208 feet in an elevator to reach Sea Lion Caves.

Sea Lion Caves has been an Oregon coastal icon as far back as most folks remember; more than 100 acres of the adjacent land has been in private ownership since 1887.

It’s been a drawing card for the curious,” said Manager Boomer Wright. He explained that the massive cave is largest along west coast and where 250 stellar sea lions are a raucous, rowdy crowd.

“They are very social animals with their barking, crawling over each other and even nipping one another. They are very social animals.”

Wright added that up to 1,000 stellar sea lions use the cave from November through late summer: They are often seen lounging, loafing or just plain sacked out on the rocky interior cliffs or boulders.

Of course, there is the large center rock that we call ‘King of the Hill,’ noted Wright and there is usually quite of a bit of fighting between sea lions to see who gets to rest atop it.”

The stellar sea lions are not the only wildlife species that are easy to spy at Sea Lion Caves. Back atop, keep eyes out for soaring raptors like hawks and eagles that are often seen on the hunt – or flocks of shore birds that dance and dazzle and skirt the surf.

David Thompson said that it is a remarkable scene and one that is often overlooked in winter: “Without a doubt, it’s the most gorgeous stretch of the Oregon coast with the collection of rocky shores, so the geology, the geography and certainly the forest add up to a wonderful place to relax and wonder and wander if you want a place to decompress.”

Fernhill Gardens

A community’s health can be measured by its wealth of wild places… and in Western Washington County discover what’s been a bit of an outdoor secret where the quiet life is prized by its wildness.

If you’re lucky you may cross paths with wildlife photographer Steve Halpern. He travels this way each week and he takes a deep breath and savor a place that’s meant for the quiet times.

“In order to do bird photography, you have to have an extraordinary tolerance for frustration,” said the longtime photographer. “You have to have high patience, be willing to endure perhaps cold and heat and bugs and remember that none of that shows up in the picture.”

What does show up in Halpern’s wonderful bird photographs are moments of wildness that are set in a place you’ve likely never seen or heard much about called Fernhill Wetlands near Forest Grove, Oregon.

“Part of it is learning bird behavior so you can get close without startling the bird you can get a nice picture of the subject in its natural habitat without it being alarmed.”

You may find it surprising that so much wildness – nearly 800-acres – is just thirty minutes west of Portland. Once considered a ‘wasteland,’ the local community thought there had to be a better way and began to change the scene over twenty years ago.

The restoration and preservation efforts paid off – today, it’s a place where eagles have a home and raise their young and where thousands of waterfowl gather each winter.

Halpern calls Fernhill Wetlands a “birder’s paradise” and it’s largely unknown:‘I think it’s an amazing thing, not just for the wildlife, but for the city of Forest Grove and for Washington County to have a world class wetland. This is as good and as wonderful a wetland as you could hope for and it’s really in our own backyards.”

It’s a fine place - just off our back  steps - that recently got even better!

The landowner, Clean Water Services, embarked on a $12 million project last year to enhance the Fernhill Wetlands property with a more natural job of cleaning wastewater.

Three acres of the site – and there’s much more on the way – have been transformed into Fernhill Gardens; a site marked by massive boulders, huge trees and nearly 60,000 wetland shrubs and plants.

The practical goal of the project is to cool treated wastewater at an affordable price before it flows into the nearby Tualatin River.

Project Manager, John Dummer, said that a project of this scale has never been built before:

“The process of naturalizing or bringing water back to nature is one of the things we wanted to evoke in this restorative garden. We want this to be a place where people can come, experience nature but also provide a purpose of cleaning and cooling the water – hence, all of the vegetation.”

The garden is a place that people will certainly want to visit – crowned by two massive wooden bridges that invite and entice visitors down the trail.

Water Resources Manager, Jared Kinnear, added: “It’s a win-win for the water, win-win for the habitat and really, offers amenities for the people too.

Local people like Debby de Carlo (a member of the local Friends of Fernhill Wetlands) agreed that the new garden will be a valuable asset to the community and to the wildlife that live here.

“This place is like a silver lining in Oregon’s rainy winters,” said De Carlo. “You see more variety of ducks here in the winter and when I’m out in a natural place like this, I forget about myself. It’s almost like a meditation to be out here surrounded by wildness.”

Halpern agreed and said that as more folks discover Fernhill, more people will come to appreciate what it offers: “It’s a place where our national bird has successfully come back from the brink of extinction. That’s really a remarkable thing and it’s good to know there’s still something wild out here.”