Beasley at Large: God’s Thumb trail under scrutiny


LINCOLN CITY — The trail to God’s Thumb is as hard to fathom as an Old Testament riddle, leaving first-time hikers to read the signs — or lack of them — to find their way to one of the most divine views at the Oregon coast.

“It’s not a designated trail system,” explained District Ranger Debbie Wilkins of the Siuslaw National Forest, which is dealing with the exploding popularity of a route once considered a local secret. “It’s not even a developed trail, but a combination of what elk and human beings have been doing for centuries.”

The lure of The Thumb — Wilkins dislikes the religious handle, bestowed by a reporter that has since gone viral — is partly owed to that undeveloped and wild nature. The trail is tortured by washouts and giant, serpentine roots, fallen trees and drop-offs that would make a billy goat twitch.

Those attractive features, however, can prove risky. To date, four expensive and hazardous rescue operations have been mounted to save injured or trapped hikers.

“It’s a very rugged, steep area,” remarked Chief Doug Kerr of North Lincoln Fire and Rescue, whose agency created a rope rescue team just for the 450-tall Thumb. “It’s a heckuva view, with a lot of secluded coves at the end of a three-mile hike. But people should be advised on how steep it is toward the end, and they have to be really careful.”

The journey to God’s Thumb begins on Logan Road at the very terminus of Lincoln City’s Roads End neighborhood. With no official trailhead, a narrow opening next to a locked gate marked with an address, “7975,” hints at the warren of competing private, city and federal landowners beyond. Those interests, combined with pressure from public safety advocates, have collided in a series of recent public meetings that could frame the future of The Thumb.

The dramatic increase in hikers, from a handful of locals in the 1970s to as many as 100 on a busy day now, has resulted in complaints from Roads End residents over parking, trash and human waste.

Jeanne Sprague, director of the Lincoln City Parks and Recreation Dept., told city councilors in November the city was working with a task force of interested partners and hiking advocates to “address the challenges and opportunities” posed by the trails growing fame. She said the likely result of the effort would create parking spaces, a restroom, official trail access and signage.

For now, however, hikers are left to follow opaque clues to the heavenly panoramas: a gravel road beyond the locked gate that rises up a hill where a well-worn path veers into the primordial rain forest.

Soon enough, what appears to be an ancient logging road dissipates into a footpath that can be slippery as a wet tile floor on a misty day. The roar of breakers far below can be heard over the edge of the trail, inviting a firm grip on your walking stick. Animal sign hints at the previous traffic, like the tracks I followed of a small deer being shadowed by a cougar.

“Anytime you wander into the woods, it’s very easy to get disoriented, especially in the fog,” remarked Jim Kusz, a captain with North Lincoln Fire. “This is a wildland, and we do have black bear and cougar. I’d say carry pepper or bear spray.”

Other recommended items include a fully-charged cell phone, a whistle or signal light and a space blanket.

“You never know what’s going to happen up there,” Kusz concluded. “You’ve got to know your limits.”

To get involved in the public process over the future of The Thumb, contact the Hebo Ranger District at 503-392-5100.

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