As destination development projects go, the nearly 400-mile Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) is pretty ideal. It has all the elements to become a world-class destination for thru-hikers, and just as much appeal to day hikers. It’s much shorter than some other long-distance hiking routes such as the Pacific Crest Trail, making it more attainable to people with less time. And its breathtaking views rival that of the Wales Coast Path, an 870-mile trek along the entire coastline of Wales.
“You can experience 40 consecutive day hikes along the OCT, beginning at the mouth of the Columbia River and ending at the California border,” says Connie Soper, author of Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail and an OCVA board member.
Yet maintaining almost 400 miles of trail over the long term requires a commitment from many organizations, including land management agencies, user groups, local governments, and even businesses. That’s where a new partnership between the Oregon Coast Visitor Association (OCVA), Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) and land management agencies is poised to play a vital role.
Closing the gaps
There are 31 critical trail linkages, or gaps, missing in the OCT today, according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), which is the agency responsible for overseeing the development and maintenance of all beaches and most of the trail portions of the OCT. A critical gap is considered a segment where a hiker currently has to use a facility or transportation corridor that was not designed for pedestrian use.
Many of the trail’s missing linkages create safety issues, according to Robin Wilcox, OPRD senior parks and trails planner. In 2011, OPRD completed the OCT Connection Strategy, which laid out a roadmap for closing those gaps. The ones that pose the biggest safety risks to hikers are the agency’s top priority.
Building a base of local volunteers
“The OCT Connection Strategy represents an exceptional opportunity to unite the region,” says Marcus Hinz, OCVA executive director. “This is an economic development call-to-action unparalleled by any other coastal tourism product effort,” Hinz says.
About half the OCT is on the beach, with other portions of the route overlapping trails and roads, including some portions of Highway 101. The hiking trail portions of the OCT are maintained by ORPD, the U.S. Forest Service and some land trusts.
“A number of groups and individuals have coordinated trail work parties over the years, but we’ve never had an organized effort around training on the Oregon Coast Trail,” Wilcox says. To address this need, OPRD and OCVA are partnering with TKO to support a part-time, year-round stewardship coordinator on the North Coast whose primary responsibility is recruiting and training volunteers along the North Coast.
OCVA has committed $60,000 to fund the position while OPRD is providing staff time and expertise. “An investment of $60,000 would not get us very far in direct trail restoration,” Hinz says. “But it goes a long way in building a grassroots base of volunteers.”
Getting to work
Susan Schen filled the position in mid-August and hit the ground running organizing trail work parties and planning a series of trainings. The trainings are designed to help hikers, volunteers and employees of land management agencies better understand how to build trails, observe and report trail issues, and address common trail problems. There’s even a wilderness first aid course, which is a hands-on learning experience for anyone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors.
As a newcomer to the Coast, Schen has been reaching out to local hiking clubs, land trusts, community groups and businesses — any organization with a membership base or employees who might be interested in participating in stewardship events. So far, her efforts have been well-received and the events have been well-attended. Over the duration of her 11-month position, Schen is planning to run a minimum of 20 stewardship events and at least 10 trainings. She’ll also be conducting some trail assessments along the Central Coast section of the OCT, which will help local land managers prioritize projects.
Sign up to help
The North Coast stewardship events are free (most trainings have a nominal fee) and open to the public, but pre-registration is appreciated. Schen is organizing events throughout the winter. “Even in moderate rain, we can get meaningful work done,” she says. To sign up for a TKO stewardship event or training, visit the organization’s event calendar, or sign up for its newsletter.
Oregon Coast Trail Maps (OPRD)