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Take a Nehalem River paddle trip on Oregon's growing network of water trails
Manzanita - Nehalem - Wheeler

By Terry Richard, The Oregonian

Oregon Live photo

As rain pelted Portland, I wistfully checked e-mails one last time to see whether perhaps Kayak Tillamook had canceled the paddle trip I was planning with them that afternoon on the new Nehalem River Water Trail.

Darn! No e-mail.

All I could do was drive to Tillamook County, windshield washers blasting on high, hoping the storm passed by the time I arrived.

It did.

And the outing turned out to be a fantastic way to spend 3 1/2 hours on the water.

We watched cormorants fishing, drying themselves while resting on logs. We spotted a harbor seal looking to snag a chinook salmon on its way upriver to spawn. A great horned owl began its evening prowl from beneath a highway bridge.

"You just never know about the weather on the coast," said Marc Hinz, owner/guide of Kayak Tillamook. "These coastal headlands have a way of breaking up the rain showers. That's why we never cancel, unless something really big is happening,"

The river trip commenced in the quaint village of Nehalem, close enough to the Pacific Ocean for the incoming tide to give us a nice push up the river's North Fork. By the time we were headed back to the city dock, the tide had turned and gave us a ride that way, too.

Riding the tide is one of the beauties of coastal paddling. And around these parts, there may be no more beautiful place to paddle than Tillamook County -- even during Oregon's wet season. With proper clothing, paddlers can sometimes experience more enjoyable outings during misty winter months than windy summer months.

To highlight Tillamook County's five saltwater bays, the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership is publishing informative booklets to describe what will become an 800-mile Tillamook County Water Trail network.

The first map/guide, for the lower Nehalem River, was released a year ago. The Tillamook Bay and rivers guide is scheduled for dedication Friday, June 4, followed by others for Sand Lake, Netarts and Nestucca bays.

The full-color water-resistant booklets also will include whitewater sections of some rivers, off-shore surf kayaking and some lake paddles.

"Our guidebooks are designed for nonmotorized boaters," said Jenny Chick, water trail coordinator for the Tillamook partnership, "but they are not exclusively for kayakers. Anyone looking for general water information can use them."

The first booklet was partially funded by a grant from Oregon Parks and Recreation and is available free.

The Tillamook Estuaries Partnership dates to the early 1990s, when Tillamook Bay was designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of 28 estuaries of national importance.

In the ensuing years, the nonprofit group stretched its watchdog mission to include the county's other four bays and added a recreation component.

The full potential of a mapped water trail network in Tillamook County won't be realized for years, but the number of paddlers keeps growing. A growing number of rivers in Oregon also are designated as water trails, including the Sandy River with a June 5 dedication.

"There has been exponential growth in flat-water kayaking in the past decade," Chick said. "It started when kayak manufacturers discovered a market they had missed, the one between high-end whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking.

"Now there's a market for big, stable boats, easy to get on and off a car. You can paddle these boats on a day tour without needing a lot of gear."

For our trip, the rain jacket you might wear in town provided sufficient protection.

During the upriver paddle, we detoured into several dead-end sloughs, where moss-draped Sitka spruces overhung the water.

Heading downstream, the setting sun opened a golden window in the dark sky, guiding us back home to the Nehalem

Water, water, water trails everywhere ... 

A water trail is a designated route that combines signs on land with printed and online information to help flat-water (and sometimes whitewater) paddlers follow the route. Check river supply stores for free water trail brochures, or to purchase maps and books.

Read entire Oregon Live Article

by Terry Richard

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