Natural area a gem for hikers and kayakers

Kevlar Sant paddles the Beaver Creek slough. (Photo by Bret Yager)

On the coast, we battle brush, and all of that dampness. Starved to get out, with spring just around the corner, there are days we could just about crawl through the bracken, but better sense stops us. The spined fingers of salmonberry vines would tangle in our hair and stay there. Saturated by all that moisture, eye-level with banana slugs, we’d get grimed with rotting leaves and mushrooms, come eye-level with banana slugs. Salal brush as thick as a hedge threatens to swallow us if we step too far off the beaten path.

Most often we have to stay on roadways and peer longingly over the bank at what we could be in the middle of — or we walk the beach. Open ground is hard to come by.

Which is why the people who discover Beaver Creek State Natural Area find it fills a craving they might not know they had. Previously farmland, the 375 acres located just eight miles south of Newport features wide open spaces that climb to the ridgetop, wetlands that used to support cattle, a deep slow-moving creek that runs through it all, perfect for a kayak — plus trails that take the hiker through forests and meadows, up to views out to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way there are signs and promise of elk, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles.

It could easily be claimed that this area packs as much recreational punch as you’re likely to get in any single spot on the central Oregon coast. So this is a good place to get to know.

Walkways, waterways

The seasonal Beaver Marsh Trail beginning about ¼ mile past the visitor center is ankle-deep with water in early spring. But a new raised platform offers access into the wetland, where redwing blackbirds are warbling, willow buds are opening and the excited call of Canada geese carries on the air. Mallard ducks paddle through the slough in pairs and blue herons post sentinel on stumps and logs or stand knee-deep in water, reeds and concentration. A dock connected to the elevated walkway is designed for kayak and SUP launches.

How wild is this place? A sign posted at the trailhead near the visitor center gives a clue. A cougar was sighted in the natural area on Feb. 3. Proceed with your eyes open. Like the signs warns, if you see one of the elusive big cats, make yourself appear large, stand your ground, and always keep children nearby.

Summertime dries out the marsh trail and allows hikers to connect into the trail system at the heart of the natural area. But until then, trail access is easiest found by heading onto South Beaver Creek Road and following for about a mile. Just after the second bridge, an undeveloped parking area is available on the right and a gated gravel road marks the winter access point to a service road that takes the hiker to the Beaver Creek Loop and a network of shorter trails with varying elevation gains, meadows and views — none of them putting the hiker more than a few hundred feet above sea level. The trails all join to each other, and it’s possible to see most of the natural area in an afternoon.

Maps and more information are available at the visitor center. There are restroom facilities at the visitor center but only portable toilet facilities on the service road, and those are ½ mile from the parking area, so hikers should plan ahead.

In early March, a burst of unexpected sun lies on the slough, and two bird watchers equipped with field glasses tell of the assortment of migratory birds that will soon be sweeping through. They’re on the lookout for secretive Virginia rails and see pileated woodpeckers and hawks year round. Ospreys will be nesting soon.

As the sun dips, Kevlar Sant pulls his stand-up paddleboard from the slough, full of peace, grateful for his time on the water.

“If I do this right, I never get my feet wet,” says the resident of the nearby Makai subdivision, wrangling the board onto the shore.

As the slough becomes a bright mirror of the sky, Sant tells of the salmon he notices running in the slough and says the reflections on the surface keep bringing him back.

“The birds — there are so many birds,” he says. “The big birds are what I like. The owls, the hawks.”

A part of Brian Booth State Park, the Beaver Creek State Natural Area originally caught the eye of recreation managers looking to link vital ecosystems — from the old growth forests in the upper watershed, down through estuaries and marshes to the beach and coastal dunes. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department bought the acreage in pieces from 2007-09, paying $1.3 million in Oregon Lottery dollars and $400,000 in U.S. Forest Service coastal wetland grant money to different property owners. A remodeled home on the land serves as the visitor center. It opened its doors in 2010.

How to get there

Turn east at Ona Beach and follow North Beaver Creek Road for one mile. The visitor center is on the right, open five days a week from noon to 5 p.m., closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. The center is the gateway to the natural area, with an observation deck looking down on the marsh and areas for short hikes and picnicking. The center has information on more than five miles of easy to moderate hiking within the natural area, along with details on two-hour long guided kayaking tours offered in the summer — equipment included — and how and when you can sign up for this treat. (Hint: signups aren’t until June and tours run from July through Labor Day, but don’t wait to explore this area). Visitors can leave the money clip at home; there are no fees associated with this park.

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