A Step Forward - Years of volunteer effort pay off with a new link that makes a coastal trail safer to walk. By Winston Ross, Eugene Register Guard (July 18, 2009)
YACHATS — When a Coos Indian girl now known only as Amanda first traversed the steep cliffs and rocky shores along the trail that now bears her name, it was not a pleasurable excursion.
The year was probably 1864, and Amanda was embarking on this journey only because U.S. soldiers had weapons trained on her and dozens of other Indians who had been yanked out of their homelands and forced to live on a crude reservation known as the “Alsea sub-agency” in modern-day Yachats.
Amanda was blind and barefoot, and blood from her rock-sliced feet left a trail where she walked, according to tribal lore.
When the newest section of her trail is dedicated Sunday, it will mean several important things: The half-mile link lets people reach the top of Cape Perpetua from the south side of Yachats without crossing Highway 101 where a treacherous hairpin curve puts pedestrians in danger; and the Amanda Trail closes one of 36 remaining gaps in the Oregon Coast Trail, a route that runs from Astoria to Brookings but can only be considered a “trail” if highways and city streets are included.
For the members of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, a band of tribes whose ancestors shared Amanda’s plight 150 years ago, the trail’s completion means something entirely different: It’s an homage to a horrific memory that haunts tribal members to this day.
“For me, Yachats is an extremely somber place to go and pay our respects,” said Wendy Williford, a member of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians tribal council. “I wouldn’t call this a celebration for our tribe. We’re thankful the residents of Yachats are honoring our plight and showing respect to our ancestors who suffered there. But it’s definitely always hard to go up to Yachats.”
Tribes and white settlers along the Oregon Coast were living mostly in peace until the Rogue River war broke out in February 1856, started by Indians unhappy with encroachment on their land. In response, the government rounded up Indians in places such as Coos Bay and along the Umpqua and Siuslaw rivers and marched them to what is today remembered as a prison camp, with minimal structures and poor access to food. Starvation and disease killed many of the Indians there. Those able to escape were quickly rounded up again.
An officer in the Army described his dissatisfaction with the corporal-in-charge’s treatment of the Siwash (a term used to describe coastal Indians) this way, in an 1864 journal entry:
“Cpl. Harvey expects the blind to see, the lame to walk and the Siwash to subsist on nothing,” the soldier wrote.
Yachats resident Joanne Kittel has been working for decades to get the Amanda Trail in walkable shape, in part to preserve the important piece of history but also to connect the Oregon Coast Trail in a way that’s safer to traverse.
The trail was the 1960s-era brainchild of Lloyd Colette, the former director of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, to which Amanda’s trail leads. But because it crosses several pieces of private property and runs along a narrow state highway right-of-way between steep cliffs and a rocky beach, the idea hadn’t gone anywhere by the time Kittel and her husband purchased a 27-acre piece of property on the northern boundary of the cape in 1986.
After hearing about the tribal history, Kittel became inspired to reinvigorate efforts to build the trail and agreed to donate a stretch of her land. But she soon discovered a dizzying array of roadblocks.
There wasn’t funding to construct the trail; other landowners didn’t want to cede their property for the effort; state and federal officials said it wasn’t possible with the land available to put in a trail that would withstand erosion and not take up too much of the highway right-of-way.
Kittel kept grinding away at it, though, bringing in experts who studied maps and found creative ways to use the space available. By 1998, with the help of dozens of volunteers, the trail from the top of the cape through Kittel’s property had been constructed.
That left a risky half-mile portion of the route to reach Ocean View Drive on the southern edge of Yachats. Hikers trying to reach the road, which was technically part of the trail, had to dart across Highway 101 at a sharp, winding curve. Kittel saw first-hand how dangerous that was in 2006.
“I was going to town; it was tourist season. I was behind an RV, and at the hairpin turn, the RV swerved,” she said, to avoid an oncoming car that had crossed the center line. A pedestrian on the road “flew into a ditch. She jumped into blackberry bushes. It left me shaken.”
Kittel renewed her efforts to expand the off-highway portion of the trail, despite state highway officials’ concerns that there wasn’t enough room in the right-of-way. A local landscaper studied the stretch and found a way to make it work. The city of Yachats wrote a grant and matched about a quarter of the $30,000 award from the state Parks and Recreation Department. Volunteers did much of the grunt work, and the trail is now all but complete.
“Yachats residents rate trails as their No. 1 priority,” Mayor Ron Brean said.
With good reason, added Lauralee Svendsgaard, chairwoman of the Yachats Trails Committee: They bring people to the region.
“In this economy, all these rural communities are struggling for dollars that aren’t based on resource extraction,” Svendsgaard said. “The more we can do to draw tourists here, the better off we are.”
It’s that logic that’s partly behind the effort to complete the entire Oregon Coast Trail, said Rocky Houston, state trails coordinator with the state parks department. Efforts to create such a route began in 1969, in the spirit of Gov. Oswald West’s declaration of state beaches as a public highway, and the route was deemed “hike-able” in 1998, but only with dozens of street and highway crossings, some of which are dangerous.
In August, Houston will begin working with local stakeholders on other sections of the trail, in search of ideas to solve ownership and right-of-way issues. There also are plans to add signs along the route.
The Amanda effort is a model, he said.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as developing a little trail on a highway right-of-way, separated from the road surface itself, where they can get away from cars a little bit,” Houston said. “Or it’s a long-term gap, with stairs up and over it, so it’s completely separate.”
With stairs or without, the Amanda Trail is serving as an example that a completed trail is sure to get plenty of foot traffic, human or otherwise.
“The deer are already using it,” Kittel said.
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