Kayaking through the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is a unique opportunity to experience nature at work. The refuge protects the largest remaining tidal salt marsh within the Coquille River estuary. Located near the mouth of the Coquille River, its shallow open waters, salt marsh, mudflats, sandy beaches, seagrass beds and sheltered channels form ribbons of waterways swarming with marine life. Every spring and fall, tens of thousands of shorebirds stop at the refuge to feast on invertebrates, while trout and coho salmon find sanctuary here.

The periphery of this peaceful wildlife refuge can be explored by foot, but it’s best experienced by boat according to Dave Lacey, destination coordinator for Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) and owner of South Coast Tours. The lower Coquille river paddle is fast becoming a popular tour for South Coast Tours. The Coquille is steeped in history and full of wildlife.

Dave Lacey and South Coast Tours guide, Brian Kraynik, hope the lower Coquille River tour will someday be the grand finale of a multi-day tour along an official 41-mile water trail that would go from the Hoffman Myrtle Grove near Myrtle Point to the mouth of the Coquille river at Bandon.

Known as the proposed Coquille River Water Trail, the trail would attract kayakers, standup paddleboarders and historic tour boats. Along the way, people could go bass fishing, view wildlife, ride surf waves, learn about the area’s history, and camp at primitive campsites. When complete, it would be one of the longest water trails in Oregon with some of the most unique boat-access-only accommodations. To become an official water trail, the proposed Coquille River Water Trail requires an Oregon State Park Designation, which could take up to two years, according to Lacey.

OCVA, under Lacey’s leadership, is working with the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program to develop a management plan for the trail. Such a plan includes boat landings, additional services, shuttling, camping, day-use sites, website development and more. They are also coordinating fundraising efforts, and garnering support from the community by showing the economic value of investing in a world-class water trail.

“The management plan is crucial to the long-term success of the water trail. One of the biggest questions we need to answer is ‘Who will be the long-term steward of the trail?’ It could be a nonprofit such as OCVA, a government agency such as Coos County, a private business, or a combination of all three.”

OCVA recently hired Kraynik to serve as the part-time Coquille River Water Trail coordinator to help drive public support and investment in the project. He’ll be organizing a series of stakeholder meetings, which will be two-way conversations in which OCVA shares information while also listening to people’s concerns. “One of the biggest messages we are trying to convey is that the proposed Coquille River Water Trail is not a conservation measure. It’s very different from a Wild and Scenic River designation or a wildlife refuge,” Lacey says. There are no prohibitions associated with a water trail.

Lacey and Kranik are working with Coos County and private landowners to develop established campsites and other accommodations along the river. Boaters along the trail might stay at a teepee one night, a treehouse the next and a conventional campground another night. Businesses could pop up to provide gear rental, shuttles, catering and other services.

“The trail offers economic opportunities for landowners and business owners, and it presents a great opportunity for people to learn about river stewardship, watershed resources and water safety,” Lacey says.

Over the next 12 months Kraynik, working closely with the National Park Service, land management agencies and landowners, will develop a Coquille River Water Trail Guide — a brochure that includes history, ecology and key points of interests for water recreation travel on specific rivers in the region and work towards a state designation for the Coquille River Water Trail.

To get involved or learn more about the proposed Coquille River Water Trail, email dave@thepeoplescoast.com.


Oregon Parks and Recreation Department: Trail Programs and Services

National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program

Photo courtesy of South Coast Tours