by Adam Sawyer
Coastal habitats are far more diverse than most people recognize. To the casual visitor, the Oregon Coast has places with sand (the beach) and places with trees (the forest). But those are just the bookends of the Tillamook Coast habitat. In addition, there are tidal flats, saltwater marshlands, wetlands, coniferous forested dunes and more.
A 357-acre stretch of land between Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout is home to all of those ecosystems. The prime piece of real estate had been part of a farm before it bounced from investors to EcoTrust to Oregon Parks and Recreation. It finally landed as the Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, Oregon’s newest state park. Named after the native grass-like plant found throughout the area, Sitka Sedge is also home to a handful of freshwater creeks making their way down to the Pacific, as well as views of Haystack Rock in Pacific City, Cape Lookout and the wildlife-rich Sand Lake Estuary. The 3.5 miles of looping trails visit every corner of this slice of biodiverse heaven. It’s also a particularly good place to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature, as there is no cell service within the park.
The explorations begin on the half-mile, ADA-accessible Beltz Dike Trail, a dike constructed in the 1920s. Red alder and Sitka spruce lord over an understory of elderberry, salal and western spiraea, before reaching a junction at the end of the dike trail. From there you’ve got a number of loop options. While there are a few beach-access points, an area reserved for snowy plover nesting is restricted from March 15 through September 15.
The aptly named Estuary View Loop offers wide-open estuary and coastal views and a forest of shore pine. Kinnikinnick Woods Loop explores a fairytale landscape of dense thickets of dwarf Sitka spruce, shore pine, brightly colored beds of moss and lichen and the occasional forested tunnel passage. This path also visits a seasonal sedge pond and a number of side-trip viewpoints, including the grassy Elk Knoll, where a bench provides expansive views of the freshwater wetlands. Pick and choose your loop options or combine all trails for a roughly 4-mile outing.
The acquisition and designation of the Sitka Sedge State Natural Area was a backyard boon for Tillamook-area residents and an absolute joy for visitors in search of tranquil beauty and the diversity of Oregon’s north coast.