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Skip's trailhead: Oregon coast spices up family reunion

JANET TSCHANZ gives her sister, Lilli Johnson, her first kayak ride along Beaver Creek.

JANET TSCHANZ gives her sister, Lilli Johnson, her first kayak ride along Beaver Creek. Skip Tschanz photo

I don’t know about you, but I find most family reunions tedious at best. Not because of the folks I get to see once a year, but where we hold the reunion.

For the last umpteen years, Janet’s family has held their annual get together in Pocatello, Idaho. There is nothing new for us or anyone else to do in Pocatello that we haven’t already done hundreds of times. We sit around picnic tables and talk the same talk that everyone else at a reunion talks about. That can get boring.

Not this year though; Janet talked her family into going to the Oregon Coast for this year’s reunion. The fact is that most of us no longer live in Pocatello so Oregon is pretty much neutral ground. We scouted the coast for the best place for the families to gather and picked Brian Booth State Park as having something for everyone. Janet sent out the invitations and all of the details for finding nearby lodging and directions to the park. Much to our surprise, we found that some of our relatives not only had never been to Oregon but had never seen the Pacific Ocean.

Now back to Brian Booth State Park. The state has combined Beaver Creek Marsh Natural Area and Ona Beach to create one of Oregon’s newest state parks. We picked this park because it has something for everyone: lots of grass for the kids to play on, easy access to a sandy beach, and a 500-plus acre natural area complete with easy hiking trails. For me, the fact that Beaver Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean was icing on the cake. Janet and I have two kayaks: a two-person sit-on-top and a one-person standard kayak. We promised everyone that we would bring both.

The first day of the reunion we had no sooner set up the picnic tables and barbecues than two of Janet’s teenage nephews wanted to try kayaking. The launch site for Beaver Creek is just about 100 feet from the parking area for Ona Beach and that makes giving multiple kayak rides simple. For newcomers to kayaking, I always start with the sit-on-top kayak. That boat is very stable, almost impossible to tip over and unsinkable. I also insist that my passengers wear life vests. Our grandson Paul, who had been kayaking with us before, laid claim to the one-person kayak.

Beaver Creek Marsh is exotic enough that even a hard to please teenager is awestruck. The creek is mirror calm as it leads you into the marsh. Oregon Department of Fish and Game said there are 172 species of birds that call this marsh home. We glided past great blue herons that were still as statues. Overhead we saw bald eagles perched on top of trees waiting for breakfast to swim below them. Beaver Creek is also home to a healthy population of beavers and nutrias. An occasional river otter makes itself known by its wake in the water. On higher ground there are Roosevelt Elk, black bear, coyotes and mountain lions.

I think what impressed my passengers most was the silence and the fact that even though we were just a quarter-mile from the nearest road, it might as well have been 100 miles because of the marsh.

By the end of day, I had gone up and back Beaver Creek 4 times with different guests and I never got tired of where I was. None of the adults had yet gotten up the courage to try the trip into the marsh. But there was always tomorrow.

The next day came and was as beautiful as the day before. To my surprise, Janet’s two sisters wanted to try the kayak ride on the condition that Janet was the guide. And to their surprise, the sit-on-top was as stable as we had told them.

The smiles on their faces were a mile wide and I could hear them giggle for a long time. They got to see osprey, bald eagles and a wild place that they seldom ventured into.

Brian Booth State Park is much more than kayak rides, it also has over 5 miles of easy hiking trails and an interpretive center.

During the summer, you can sign up for a two-mile guided kayak tour going up Beaver Creek and into the marsh. You don’t have a kayak? Well, here’s a deal of a lifetime. For $15 you can rent a kayak complete with paddles, lifejackets and an interpretive guide. If you have your own kayak, you are welcome to launch at Ona Beach State Park at anytime. And very best of all, this is not a fee area. All you need is a sense of adventure.

Be sure to take binoculars, a bird identification book, snacks and water. Brian Booth State Park is 9 miles south of Newport, Oregon.

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