The Untapped Coast Range

By Forrest Smith -

The Oregon Coast Range is often ignored by hikers. The large swaths of logged areas, roads, and other intrusions by man keep us away, thinking that we aren’t really missing much. Yet, whenever I drive to the beach, I am always impressed with the rugged scenery that blurs through my vision as I speed hastily along to the coast.

I decided to stop.

I hiked the Elk Creek – Kings Mountain Loop, and after completing the trip I was left with a feeling that we are all missing something in this forested blank spot between the Willamette Valley and the Pacific. The area offers deep canyons with craggy ridges rising thousands of feet above clear, boulder strewn creeks, mountain top vistas that stretch from the Pacific to the Cascades, wildflower meadows, and green rolling hills that stretch to the horizon.

It’s beautiful.

Unlike other mountainous areas of Oregon, all of this beauty is accessible nearly year-round, if only we had trails to access it, and less of man’s touch to distract from it.

Unfortunately Oregon’s Coast Range area has been touched by man. Generally, our development has always followed a path of least resistance, which has left us a few pockets of untouched land that are difficult to access or that have little financial value. Often we find great beauty in these inaccessible areas – generally the rugged mountain ranges. There is however beauty in the overly accessible areas as well. Areas like the Coast Range.

Most of the Coast Range has been impacted by our very real need for lumber and other resources, and quite frankly, these products do need to come from somewhere. But perhaps in a mountain range that is nearly devoid of any wild areas, there is a little room for something more. There aren’t too many areas of the Coast Range that will ever be true wilderness, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t designate beautiful and lightly touched areas as semi-wilderness with the idea that discontinuing logging and vehicular access could return these areas to pristine condition within a generation or two.

We Portlanders love our wilderness areas. Our growing population loves the Gorge, Mt. Hood, and other Cascade areas almost too much, and as we continue to grow, it seems reasonable that wild areas to escape our everyday lives and reconnect with nature should increase as well. While there are numerous wilderness areas to the east of Portland, to the west there is nothing.

Perhaps it is time for there to be something.