THIS PROGRAM ORIGINALLY AIRED ON MARCH 12, 2011
A PERFECT PADDLE
Spring break is just around the calendar corner and you may be yearning for vacation time that’s close to home but offers an escape that feels a million miles away.
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.
THREE MILE MUSEUM
Winter’s hold seems firm and lasting across Oregon on a day marked by more fresh snowfall.
The snow lights up the scene across the coast range mountain foothills.
While across the Tualatin Valley, it’s quiet times and the farming life is mostly indoors.
Tom Meier is a life long learner and self-proclaimed ‘protector’ of Oregon’s past at a place you’ve likely missed.
It’s a home for one of a kind farm tools that got the jobs done when ingenuity was born of necessity; items headed for the landfill and irreverent death.
Rescued items like cowboy spurs, old film projectors and even older telephones.
For decades Meier has scoured old homesteads and family estate sales and gathered items that can leave you scratching your head.
Meier said the adventure of it all has left him eager for more:
“When you see an original and authentic antique or artifact that says ‘Oregon,’ believe me, you will know it – it jumps out at you.”
Meier says better preserved at his museum than the local landfill.
“I bought one collection from a farmer who was heading to the dump and I said, ‘No, this stuff has value.’ And he said, ‘Well you get it out of here then.’ I swear if it weren’t for me, this would be buried a hundred feet in the ground and lost forever.”
There are really old political buttons and fishing stuff to catch the big ones in Meier’s massive collection of 14,000 items.
It is a collection that continues to grow each day inside a place that just makes you feel good to see that someone cares this much about our past.
Meier’s friends frequently stop in at the Three Mile Museum; sometimes they show up offering donations.
A neighbor and longtime friend, Jim Shores, admires Meier’s museum.
He recently offered up a unique device that had been in his family as long as he could remember: a small wooden “butter” printer that was at least a century old.
Meier was excited to see the rare item: “I’ll be honest with folks – especially if it’s got little value - but every once in a while we get lucky. This is a real treasure believe me, that’s something you just can’t buy today.
Shores offered, “We’ve become such a throw away society – buy it, use it for awhile and throw it away. But back in those days, the family kept so many things, used them until they were extremely worn out and had no value anymore.”
Tom admits that his 40 years of pack rat-ing Oregon memorabilia selectively. The former grade school teacher is adamant that we risk losing ourselves when we lose touch with where we've come from and his Three Mile Museum is a tie that binds us with our stuff and Oregon’s past with the present.
“I like to have things that no one else has,” boasted Meier with a hearty laugh. ”How many people have a museum in the backyard? Why have these things if I can’t show them off.”
Meier’s word of mouth Three Mile Museum doesn’t require an admission fee, but it does require a reservation to visit; especially for small groups of people. Tom Meier asks visitors to contact him in advance at Thomasmeier@frontier.com
A GIANT MIGRATION
Some people go the extra mile to teach you more about Oregon’s wildlife legacy.
Gloria and Alan Koch set up what amounts to an outdoor classroom to teach the people who stop in at Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint.
It’s a good place for visitor’s to stop in for a lesson and it is hard to miss because the “Whale Watch Spoken Here” sign rests alongside Coastal Highway 101.
“We are here because we love the whales,” noted Gloria Koch who added that she and Alan have been “teachers in residence” as Boiler Bay whale watch volunteers for the past seven spring seasons.
Gloria added that their stay during Whale Watch Week is a teaching tradition they never miss because, “We are real advocates for the whales… and it’s only when you understand and appreciate an animal that you will do something to help that animal survive on this earth.”
It is the size of the gray whales that capture our imaginations! As big as a bus and yet they glide through the water with a certain smoothness and ease.
There is so much to admire about the gray whales long distance romance!
Consider their journey! It’s a round trip of more than twelve thousand miles from the Arctic to Baja birthing grounds and now – in late March, they are swimming back home to the Arctic again.
When the weather is too foul to watch for them outdoors, you can duck indoors at nearby Depoe Bay and learn even more.
Morris Grover, manager of Oregon State Park’s Whale Watch Center said it is a place that’s like a gateway to understanding the giants of the deep.
He said that thousands of people from all over the world travel to Oregon in the spring just to see the gray whales – hundreds of visitors will stop in at the center each week – an unassuming building that is perched just above the ocean breakers in the center of town.
“We have artifacts of all sort: skeletons of seals, sea lions, plus short movies about different kinds of whales. The gray whales are actually doing very well – we think there are about 19,000 right now, so it’s a very healthy herd.
They are one of the great recovery stories since they were removed from the Federal Endangered Species List.”
On of the most effective ways that Oregon State Parks shares information with coastal visitors is the “Whale Watch Spoken Here” program.
It is now 36 years old and it can be found at 28 different sites along the Oregon coast during spring break vacation.
There are more than 500 volunteers like Bill and Theda Hastie, who do their duty each day to put people in touch with the experience of whale watching.
The Hastie’s enjoy Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint in Tillamook County; both agree it is a grand place to see and learn more about the giant mammals.
Bill offered this whale-watching tip: “If you want to see whales, it’s good to do it in the morning when the sunlight is behind you. That’s the best time to see them. The simplest technique for locating the whales in the water is to watch for their spouts, the blow of air and water that the giants exhale before taking another breath and slipping below the surface”
That’s where the phrase “Thar she blows” originates. The calmer the water, the easier it will be for you to see the spouts.
Here’s a tip I learned many years ago from one of the whale-watch volunteers from the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport: try to see the big picture by scanning the ocean with your eyes rather than jumping from one spot to another. If you use your vision like it’s set for a wide-screen format, you’ll see the blow better than you will by using binoculars to bring the view closer.
Also, when talking with others in a group try to find a common language for distance or location so everyone can enjoy the show. There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing “I see it!” and you haven’t a clue where to look.
I use my fingers! That is, when I spy a whale on the sea, I’ll raise my hand horizontally to the distant horizon, count the number of finger widths from that line to the whale, and tell others to do the same. It really works!
Back at Boiler Bay, volunteer Alan Koch said that he’s been through an incredible training program to teach whale biology, natural history and the problems the gray giants face in the ocean.
"Pollution of our water is number one," said Koch, "whether it's an oil spill, or dumping our garbage in the ocean, it all affects all the animals. Truth is,it affects us too because we eat food from the sea. If we pollute the sea it's going to hurt us."
Morris Grover agreed: "People are very concerned about those issues today! The fact that we've got these big animals right in our backyard, and the fact that they've come back from virtual extinction is something visitors appreciate and respect."
A VISITOR FRIENDLY HATCHERY
The wonderful thing about travel in Oregon is that the opportunities to learn more about the northwest environment wait for the visitor at every turn.
That’s certainly true at this week’s Grant’s Getaway location that may also be one of the most overlooked sites in the area, yet provides varied and interesting environmental lessons about salmon and steelhead at the
n Clatsop County.
The site is open daily, no reservations are required and a visit is absolutely free to the public.
Just ninety minutes from Portland, the hatchery offers activities that teach much about the fish and their ties with the aquatic environment.
You can stroll past rearing ponds that are brim full of baby salmon or trout; perhaps you will time your visit on “spawning day” when you can watch how the next generation of salmon is produced.
In addition, stroll down to the banks of North Fork of the Nehalem River and check out the unique Disabled Angler Platform where big fish are always on the bite for anglers who need a break.
Keep your eyes on the sky as well – bald eagles are known to soar overhead – and closer to ground, Roosevelt elk are often seen in the nearby forests.
Make tracks for the Trail to Umbrella Falls and enjoy a short, easy and scenic stroll to reach the namesake falls that offers a stunning moment along the river.
It’s a place that’s never twice the same and will provide lasting memories that may teach you something new about Oregon.