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Halvor Tweto | 09.17.2014

On a north-oriented map, the Nestucca (pronounced neh-STUH-ca) Bay estuary resembles nothing so much as a set of lungs. Keep Cape Kiwanda above and north and Cascade Head below to the south, and in the middle you have twin bays separated by a peninsula known as Cannery Hill. Naturally, these bays breathe water: the main Nestucca flows down from the north and enters the bay in an esophageal position, the Little Nestucca enters the east bay from the southeast corner, and the Pacific’s tidal circulation flows through the mouth of the Nestucca in the southwest corner of the west bay. To get a better look at this remarkable area, my wife and I joined a Nature Conservancy field trip into the refuge, scheduled as a short paddle with Tillamook Kayak from the Little Nestucca to the peninsula’s point and a pair of short hikes on peninsula itself.

Estuaries are complicated and delicate ecological support systems, and Nestucca Bay is no exception. Anadromous salmonids need these brackish gateways to live their double lives, and the wetlands that are constantly refreshed by tidal inflows and outflows create a very specific habitat for coastal and migratory birds and their food sources. Nestucca Bay is a part of the Pacific Flyway, and it is well known for its Dusky Canada Goose Population that winters in Western Oregon, but any visitor can expect to see a stunning variety of shorebirds year round.

Until very recently, the Cannery Hill land formation that sits at the very center of the bay was privately owned. The Society of Jesus operated a retreat on the northernmost portion of the peninsula, though it had fallen into disuse, and several of the retreat’s buildings had languished. The Jesuits decided to sell the land, and the peninsula was actually put up for auction. Several developers expressed a great deal of interest, and rather miraculously, none purchased.

Serendipitously, The Nature Conservancy had received a National Scenic Byways grant that was sizeable enough to purchase not only the Jesuit land but also the private land just to the south, potentially connecting the entire peninsula to the existing Nestucca Bay public land managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. After lengthy and sometimes tenuous negotiations, The Nature Conservancy was able to purchase the peninsula operating as a transitional agent; the real goal was to get the land unified under public ownership. In 2013, the USFWS finished the acquisition process, purchased the land from The Nature Conservancy, and added 203 acres to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Work is currently underway to transform the peninsula into publicly accessible land. If all goes according to plan, look for a network of trails that will extend from the area just north of the existing Pacific View Trail all the way to the peninsula’s northern tip within the next two years. Until then, you can see the land by attending one of the seasonal walks that are conducted by the USFWS, such as the walk scheduled for October 21 this year. Eventually the vision for a more unified and publicly accessible refuge will be a reality, and the former retreat will become one of Oregon’s premiere locations to observe healthy estuarial habitat.

 

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