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A Walk Through Tillamook County History

Cape Meares Lighthouse

View from the hotel on Bayocean Spit, circa 1911-1914 

Our route this year is steeped in history.

In our third year of walking 30 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail, CoastWalk Oregon has landed in the heart of the Tillamook Coast, also known as the Three Capes region. We’ll tackle two of those capes in 2018—and hike the beaches and cross the bays that separate them. Every day will start and end in the port town of Garibaldi, just inside the mouth of Tillamook Bay. We will be walking through the traditional homeland of the Nehalem Tillamook people, many of whose descendants are today part of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon or the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.

The site of our welcome party is Garibaldi’s historic US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station. When it opened in 1936, the boathouse could accommodate two 36-foot motor lifeboats and one 26-foot oar-powered surfboat. A system of rails allowed lifeboats to be rapidly launched fully manned. The boathouse served the USCG Tillamook Bay Station until it was decommissioned in the early 1960s. After sitting empty for many years, the boathouse is now being restored by a citizens’ group working to transform it into the Tillamook Bay Heritage Center at Pier’s End.

Day 1 begins with a ride on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, an all-volunteer organization that operates over the former Southern Pacific and Port of Tillamook Bay Railroads tracks stretching along the bay and ocean shore and into the forested river canyon east of Wheeler. Their extensive equipment roster includes historic steam and diesel locomotives and a fleet of vintage passenger cars; we’ll see what they choose for us that morning. The volunteer engineers are getting up extra early to transport us to the Nehalem Jetty before their regular schedule of excursions start, so don’t be late!

“Thanks for the opportunity to support such a great mission in such a fun way!”

—Cheryl, Portland OR, CWO 2016

Next up on Day 1, we’ll walk down Rockaway Beach. This seaside resort town was established in 1909 and named after the beach of the same name on New York’s Long Island.

Three years earlier, in 1906, a real estate broker from Kansas City envisioned a second Atlantic City on Bayocean Spit, the sand spit separating Tillamook Bay from the Pacific Ocean, where we’ll begin our Day 2 walk. By 1914 as many as 600 building lots had been sold in what was called Bay Ocean Park, and the spit had become a bustling community complete with a hotel, a dance hall, a 1000-seat theater, and a natatorium. But the unstable sand spit couldn’t support the development. Lots began eroding steadily, and in 1950 the last house on the spit washed into the sea. Today Bayocean Spit is a natural area attracting hikers, mountain bikers, and birdwatchers. Our midpoint rest stop on Day Two will be at Bay Ocean Park’s 1912 one-room schoolhouse, which was moved to the community of Cape Meares and has been lovingly restored as its community center.

Cape Meares Lighthouse went into service in 1890; it no longer serves as an aid to navigation, but it has been restored and still has its original first-order Fresnel lens. Capes Lookout and Meares both formed as a result of basalt lava flowing down the Columbia River from volcanoes in the interior some 15.5 million years ago. The lava spread out and followed stream valleys over what was then a very low Coast Range, one blanketed not by the Douglas fir forests of today but by grassy savannah with ginkos, maples, and oaks and a few pines and spruces. Where the basalt hardened, it formed casts that remained in place as the softer stone around them eroded away. Cape Lookout  had been considered as an alternative lighthouse site by the 19th century US Lighthouse Board; this narrow promontory extends 1.5 miles out into the Pacific and was exactly halfway between lighthouses on Tillamook Rock (in the ocean west of Seaside) and Cape Foulweather (a headland north of Newport). However it was deemed too high and too difficult to reach with building materials. A trail leads to the end of Cape Lookout, but we won’t be taking it (that’s a hike for another day).

CoastWalk Oregon 2018 ends at the Meriwether-Clark Scout Reservation established by the Boy Scouts in 1925 on this remote stretch of beach south of Cape Lookout.

In cooperation with our partners at Oregon State Parks, we will be encouraging participants to follow a LEAVE-NO-TRACE ethic throughout CoastWalk Oregon.