Getting to the Oregon Coast is an experience in and of itself. Most routes to the Coast include a scenic drive along a rushing river, over the Coast Range, by historic landmarks, and through quaint towns. Yet some are more celebrated than others.
Community leaders in Waldport hope that visitors will consider Marys Peak to Pacific, a meandering 72-mile route along the Alsea River between Corvallis and Waldport, a worthy detour. The effort to create Marys Peak to Pacific Scenic Byway was no small feat, taking many years and coordination with multiple agencies. But the payoff could be big for the small town of Waldport and others along the route.
Marys Peak to Pacific is one of four on the Coast (the other three are the Trees to Seas Scenic Byway and the Umpqua River Scenic Byway and the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway). Economic analysis indicates that travelers spend an average of $104 per day along Scenic Byways, which directly benefits rural businesses and workforces. Additionally, one of the significant benefits of federal byway designation is that byways and their communities become eligible for special grant funding opportunities, according to Travel Oregon.
“This designation will put Waldport on the map and redefine our town,” says Kerry Kemp, Waldport’s city manager.
Kemp and his colleagues at the City of Waldport were motivated to revive an application to the state’s Scenic Byways program in 2014, when the Oregon Department of Transportation was undergoing a massive construction project on OR-20 between Corvallis and Newport to straighten a curvy, dangerous 10 miles of two-lane road. “We knew many visitors would take this much improved, faster route to the Coast. We didn’t want our city to get lost in the shuffle,” Kemp says, referring to OR-34, also known as the Alsea Highway, which ends in Waldport.
“We anticipated that a Scenic Byways designation would provide Waldport and other towns along OR-34 great exposure for years to come.”
Oregon’s Scenic Byways Program is administered by Oregon Department of Transportation and marketed in partnership with Travel Oregon. To become part of Oregon’s Scenic Byways program, a community must meet certain criteria and do its due diligence to ensure communities along the route are welcome to the idea. Routes must have six intrinsic qualities: natural, scenic, recreational, archaeological, cultural and historic.
To some people, these qualities might seem to conflict with one another. That’s why public outreach is so important. Marys Peak to Pacific begins near Interstate 5 and Tangent, an agriculturally rich area that produces most of the nation’s turf grass seed, along with hazelnuts, berries, mint and many other crops. It then travels along OR-34. “Many locals were concerned about the additional traffic the byway might create along Highway 34,” Kemp says. “But traffic models and history show that scenic byways don’t result in a huge increase in traffic. Only a percentage of drivers — usually those with more time and spending money — choose the slower route. We helped ease concerns about traffic and focus on economic opportunities.”
The city of Waldport, where Marys Peak to Pacific concludes (or starts depending on your point of view), is a quaint town often overlooked by visitors, says Waldport mayor, Susan Woodruff. “We’re excited to introduce more people to our town and attractions such as the 10-mile Alsea River Water Trail and the excellent crabbing in Alsea Bay.”
“What really came to light during this process is how much diversity exists along the corridor,” Kemp says. “When you travel to Waldport along the byway, you travel through a working landscape. There are farms, ranches, parks, fishing holes, hiking trails, campgrounds and other lodging opportunities. We hope people will take their time to enjoy the full experience.”
Photo by Larry Andreasen