Exploring the Siletz Bay NWR by Paddle

July 3, 2014

 

I decided to check out the paddling conditions at the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge and made arrangements with Meagan Campbell, a USFWS volunteer, to accompany her as she led a group of paddlers on an evening paddle through the refuge.

 

Having driven past the refuge many times on my way to Beaver Creek and seeing the creek that winds through the refuge, usually when the tide is out and there is little water in the creek, I wanted to see what paddling would be like when the creek had water. I was also curious to see if there was wildlife in the refuge because I had never seen a single bird, mammal, or any other living creature in the refuge when driving by.

 

The trip was supposed to have started at 5:30 p.m., but a major fire at the historic Crab Pot restaurant brought traffic on Highway 101 to a crawl. It took those of us traveling south through Lincoln City, Oregon, an hour and a half just to get through the town that normally takes drivers 15–20 minutes to traverse. Meagan was very accommodating to those stuck in traffic as a result of the fire and delayed the departure until everyone had arrived.

 

Once all the boats were unloaded, we set out from Siletz Bay Moorage and headed up the Siletz River to take advantage of the wind. Winds in the area typically start blowing in the late morning, so it’s best to start paddling the refuge one hour before high tide in the morning.

 

Entrance to the wildlife refuge is either from the creek that parallels Highway 101 or Millport Slough on the upriver side of the Stamper house that served as a movie prop in the 1971 Ken Kesey movie Sometimes a Great Notion, starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. It was on the slough that we chose to enter the refuge.

 

Along the slough we spotted a red-tailed hawk, an osprey, marsh wrens, mallards, buffleheads, and a great blue heron. Other birds paddlers are likely to encounter include bald eagles, mergansers, pintails, American wigeons, green-winged teals, Virginia rails, soras, and common yellowthroats. The slough winds its way through rush and marsh grasses as it heads out to Siletz Bay. Out in the bay paddlers will spot dunlins, sandpipers, dowitchers, whimbrels, semipalmated plovers, and greater yellowlegs.

 

Just before the Highway 101 bridge over the slough, we turned right and headed north up the creek that parallels the highway. The creek connects Millport Slough to the Siletz River on the western edge of the refuge. It was on this creek a few paddlers spotted a pair of river otters.

 

The creek passes the refuge sign and meanders through woods as it gets closer to the Siletz River and is home to raccoons, beavers, and muskrats. This section of the refuge is probably the most photogenic and interesting because of the varied vegetation along the creek. A stump in the creek helps add a touch of character and makes a great photographic prop.

 

Throughout the trip, Meagan gathered us around her to explain about the refuge and the importance it plays to migrating and resident wildlife. The refuge was established to protect the salt marsh, which serves as a nursery
ground for coho and chinook salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.

 

Upon leaving the creek, we set out across the river and returned to the moorage. Leaving and arriving at the moorage can be a little tricky because of the narrow boat ramp and the closeness of pilings and log booms to the dock. Winds can make leaving or arriving even trickier, especially if windswept waves turn to whitecaps. Wearing a PFD is strongly encouraged.

 

The Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers paddling tours of the refuge during summer months. The tours are very popular and fill up fast, so registering early is highly recommended. Tours are finished for this year, but to be informed about next year’s tours, contact Meagan Campbell at 541-270-0610.

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