Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua
THE GIANT SPRUCE OF CAPE PERPETUA, OREGON
By Sally Lockyear and Joanne Kittel
The Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua is the largest and oldest tree in the Cape Perpetua Regional Scenic Area, which encompasses over 9000 acres. This Sitka spruce (Picea Sitchensis) is over 185 feet tall, with a circumference of 40 feet. Through comparative analysis, its age has been estimated to be 565-585 years or more.
LOCATION OF THE GIANT SPRUCE TREE
The Giant Spruce is located in the Cape Perpetua Regional Scenic Area of the Siuslaw National Forest, approximately 3 miles south of Yachats via Highway 101. The Giant Spruce tree is easily accessible via the Spruce Trail from the Cape Perpetua Visitors Center.
HISTORY AND SIGNFICANCE OF THE GIANT SPRUCE
The Giant Spruce tree bears historical significance, and its survival against all adversity has been monumental.
This Picea Sitchensis (Sitka spruce) began its life nourished by a nurse log nearly 600 years ago near Cape Creek. The Giant Spruce tree was already approximately 50 years old when Columbus sailed to America.
Witness to Human History
Indigenous people dwelled nearby at a site now known as the mouth of Cape Creek, just south of Cape Perpetua and a mere 1/2 mile west of the Giant Spruce. Archaeological investigation showed that they had occupied this site continuously for 1500 years up until the1840’s. (Rick Minor, Ruth Greenspan, Archaeology of the Cape Creek Shell Midden. Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. Central Oregon Coast: “Interim Report of the 1991 Investigations,” Unpublished. Coastal Pre-History Program, Oregon State Museum of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 10/2/95, pp. 38, 107-111.)
The Yachats area, including Cape Perpetua, became part of a reservation known as the Coast Reservation. This reservation was established in fulfillment of a stipulation from ratified treaties with the Rogue, Umpqua, and Willamette Valley Tribes, signed in 1853-1855 that called for the President of the United States to select a permanent reservation for these native peoples. In 1859, the United States government established the Alsea Sub-agency, an annex of the Siletz branch of the Coast Reservation, which included land already populated by the Alsea and Siuslaw Peoples, as well as the Yachats area. Subsequently, the Coos and lower Umpqua Peoples were forcibly marched from their homes 80 miles to the south to the Yachats location. The Coast Reservation was never ratified by Congress, however; consequently, these dislocated indigenous people never received the food, shelter and other services promised to them, leaving them to live in deplorable conditions (Stephen Dow Beckham, “The Reservation Years”). In 1875, the Alsea Sub-agency was dismantled, and the land was opened to homesteading (The Indians of Western Oregon. This Land Was Theirs? Coos Bay: Arago Books, 1977, pp. 147-169, and Robert Kentta, Cultural Resources Specialist, Confederated Tribes of the /Siletz Indians, and Phyllis Steeves).
In 1908, the Cape Perpetua area was part of a large land tract that was incorporated to create the Siuslaw National Forest. President Teddy Roosevelt made this an official declaration as he left office in 1908. The Giant Spruce has been under Siuslaw National Forest designation since that time.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of the “New Deal,” established a camp at Cape Perpetua in the early 1930’s. It was the CCC that built the first trail to the Giant Spruce in the 1930’s, probably opening up an ancient animal/Indian trail (Bud Hershberger).
Survivor of Historical Acts of Nature
Remarkably, the Giant Spruce has seen and survived all of the well-known violent acts of nature recorded in this area during the tree’s lifetime.
There is well-documented evidence that an earthquake of an estimated magnitude of over 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred in the coast region on January 27, 1700. The Giant Spruce survived that earthquake, as well as the subsequent tsunami that roared up the nearby Cape Creek.
It also survived the known coastal fires of the 1850’s, 1880’s, and 1930’s (Steeves).
The most powerful storm ever recorded in Oregon history is the infamous Columbus Day Storm of 1962. The top 35 feet of the Giant Spruce was broken off. Winds at the Cape during that storm were recorded to have exceeded 160 mph (Hershberger).
The Giant Spruce survived the great Christmas flood of 1964, which destroyed the trail to the tree, many nearby trees, and the local campground. In 1965, the newly formed Angell Job Corps rebuilt the trails, including the one to the Giant Spruce, as well as the bridges over Cape Creek and the campground (Steeves, Lloyd Colette, Hershberger, Jim Bull).
Silent Sentinel of Oregon Old Growth
The Giant Spruce has survived the extensive homesteading and subsequent cutting of old growth that took place on land adjacent to Cape Perpetua. Much of the forest to the north, south and east has been logged. Cape Perpetua may have provided a formidable barrier, saving the Giant Spruce from the massive logging operations of old growth Sitka spruce by the Pacific Spruce Corporation. It also survived a proposal for a residential housing development along Cape Creek in the 1930’s (Steeves).
Guardian of a Fragile Ecosystem
The home of the Giant Spruce is rich in biodiversity, comprising a rare and precious stand of old growth Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and hemlock. The surrounding flora is breathtaking and includes claytonia, trillium and skunk cabbage. Local wildlife includes the rarely seen winter wren, the marbled murrelet (Cape Creek is designated as a marbled murrelet route), the spotted owl, dippers, phalarope, belted kingfisher, blue herons, and a wide variety of raptors. Roosevelt elk, black-tail deer, coyotes, black bears, bobcat and cougar all call this area their home (Jim Gerdemann, Jim Bowers).
Gentle Mentor of Students of Nature
The Giant Spruce has been visited and valued by tourists, botanists, biologists, and naturalists from all over the world since the 1930’s. Its history includes countless educational visits by elementary, middle and high school students throughout Oregon. The Oregon Outdoor School and the forestry schools of state universities of Oregon and community colleges have also studied this tree and its surrounding eco-system (Colette, Bowers).
Please see the INTERVIEWS section, below, for verification of the above and further details about the Giant Spruce.
SUPPORT FOR THE GIANT SPRUCE AS AN HISORICAL LANDMARK
The following organizations have formally expressed their support of the historical significance of the Giant Spruce:
· The Siuslaw National Forest
· The Lincoln County Historical Society
· The Perpetua Foundation
· The Little Log Church and Museum of Yachats
· Yachats City Council
· Yachats Youth and Family Activities Program
· View the Future (a local conservation organization).
January 8, 2006 via telephone
Bud Hershberger worked for the Siuslaw National Forest as Recreation Director from October 12, 1962 through 1990. Bud stated the following: “A few days after the storm, I was surprised to notice that the blow down trees in Cape Creek Campground had all missed the campground shelter. We saw that the Giant Spruce had been topped also, by about 35 feet. In regard to a trail to Giant Spruce, the CCCs built one back to the tree in the 1930's, as a destination or viewpoint. The Christmas floods of 1964 tore out most trail segments and bridges between the visitor center, campground, and the spruce. All were rebuilt in 1965, this time primarily by the Job Corps. Even though severely torn up, most of the trail was rebuilt over the old trail, because of both expense and its being the easiest way through rocks, etc. I do not ever remember that the Giant Spruce Tree was core sampled for age and believe this was done by comparative analysis, but don't know the year. The Giant Spruce is an amazing tree, a tremendous survivor, and is visited every year by hundreds of school children. They are our real heritage.”
January 11, 2006
Phyllis Steeves is a Federal Forest Service Archaeologist with the Siuslaw National Forest.
Phyllis related the following: “As of 2006, the Giant Spruce at Cape Perpetua is a unique tree in the Siuslaw National Forest. Sitka spruce forests are not pervasive, but rather generally grow in the narrow fog belt margin along the Pacific coast, thriving with rich forest loam and abundant moisture.
“Foremost, the Giant Spruce has survived over 500 years of high cyclonic winds and episodic but pervasive fires that have ravaged the coast, most notably the Columbus Day storm of 1962 and the fires of the late 1840’s through the 1930’s. It endured the earthquake of AD1700 that geologists believe may have been a magnitude 9.0 event. The Giant Spruce has avoided the vast homesteading and subsequent cutting of old growth that took place adjacent to Cape Perpetua. Much of the forest to the north, south and east has been logged. Cape Perpetua may have provided a formidable barrier to saving the Giant Spruce from the massive logging operations of old growth Sitka spruce by the Pacific Spruce Corporation. A railroad built by the US Army Spruce Division during World War I to transport logs ended just north of present day Yachats. It survived a proposed residential housing development along Cape Creek in the 1930’s. Most importantly, just one-half mile west of the Giant Spruce where Cape Creek meets the ocean was a large seasonal campsite used by local Indians. Archeological site investigations have established a long record of site visits over the past 1700 years throughout this area. Many of these people preceded the birth of the Giant Spruce and beared witness to its growth over most of its life.
“The Giant Spruce has endured fires, winds in excess of 160 mph, at least one major earthquake, homesteading, logging, and development. It stands tall and proud among a spruce forest and has done so before Columbus made his first voyage to America.”
January 12, 2008
Lloyd Collett is retired from the Federal Forest District, Siuslaw Forest.
Lloyd first came to Region 6 in 1968, having been put in charge of timber management. However, he replaced Jim Bull as Resource Assistant, which put him in charge of fisheries, riparian areas, wildlife, recreation, scenic areas -- all but timber. He was responsible for all activities at Cape Perpetua other than timber cutting. As money tightened, he became more involved with the creation, restoration, and preservation of projects, as well as in making Cape Perpetua what it is today. He was in charge of expanding the Wilderness Act to encompass the Drift Creek, Cummins Creek, and Rock Creek Wilderness Areas in order to preserve the coastal watershed and the sensitive coastal habitat that it supported. He assigned a high priority to the management of coastal recreation, and acquired additional private acreage for the Cape in order to make the Cummins Creek Trail and Reserve a reality. He developed and organized educational programs and tours involving the services of naturalists and volunteers. These programs brought children’s organizations and school groups from all over Oregon and even brought college forestry classes to the Cape to learn and study. Lloyd expanded the Visitor Center’s hours to so that the Center could be opened daily, except for Christmas and New Year’s, for many years. He found money to rebuild the Campground after it was destroyed by the storms and floods of December, 1964. Lloyd was responsible for establishing the rock structure and rock fences as National Historic Structures. Until his retirement in 1989, Lloyd saw Cape Perpetua grow from 3000 acres to over 9000 acres.
Lloyd states that the CCC built the first trail to the Giant Spruce tree. He adds that the trail probably followed an ancient Indian and animal trail. He heard from the “early people” who settled in the area that arrowheads have been found near the Giant Spruce. In view of the fact that the archaeology site is located so close by, he is sure that the Indians moved up Cape Creek in those winter months and knew the Giant Spruce and its surrounding forest well. Lloyd states that the Job Corps improved and helped restore the Campground after the 1964 storm and floods, by rebuilding bridges and building the picnic shelter. In addition, he states that the Job Corps did another major revitalization of the Spruce Trail in 1989 under his direction, reconstructing areas prone to slippage and slide. He tells us that Job Corps also built the concrete steps to the Giant Spruce, enabling visitors to walk around it more easily and view all sides of it.
When asked how many people have traversed the Spruce Trail and visited the Giant Spruce, Lloyd tells us that it is more than can be possibly estimated. Importantly, he has witnessed the same people returning to the Giant Spruce many times. “You visit the Giant Spruce, and its strong presence beckons you back.”
“There are bigger trees and certainly there are older trees, but no tree that stands the majesty that thrills and inspires us more than the Giant Spruce. Combined with the history of the area, the Giant Spruce honors all the efforts that all the people have been inspired by and worked for its preservation and recreational value. It stands to symbolize the vital balance of the rare ecology Cape Perpetua is, providing a wide array of sea and forest wildlife and a forest environment second to none. The Giant Spruce is a grand fixture of the Siuslaw National Forest.”
January 9, 2006 via e-mail
Jim Bull was the Resource Assistant, Siuslaw National Forest, Feb. 1962 – April 1973.
Jim responded to questions asked by e-mail.
To the best of your knowledge...did the CCCs install a path or trail to the Giant Spruce
when they built the Cape Creek campground and the cape trails in the 1930's?
There was an existing trail on the south side of Cape Creek from Highway 101 to the group picnic area at the east end of the campground. As near as I can recall it was built by the CCC.
Was there a trail to the tree when you were first employed in April 1962?
As I said on the phone, I'm sure the trail went on from the group picnic area to the giant Spruce, but I don't know if it was constructed at the same time as the campground/group picnic site, was constructed later by the Forest Service, or whether it was a "user developed" trail.
How extensive was the 1964 flood damage (Christmas flood)?
The damage was very extensive. The culvert under Highway 101 was blocked with debris and backed water up quite a way. The highway department had a big crane in there for quite a while getting it cleaned out. This also impacted the sewage treatment plant. Many of the campsites located between the campground road and Cape Creek were washed away entirely or in part. I seem to recall that the bank washed out right up to the road in some places - may have taken part of the roadway as well. There were several trees washed out or damaged as well, although I don't recall any large trees - mostly Alder I think.
Please relate any memories you have of the Columbus Day (October12, 1962) in relation to the Giant Spruce or any of the blow down around the campground.
As I said there were some trees that came down, but I don't recall all that much blow down in the creek bottom, or damage done as a result, but I don't specifically recall checking out the campground myself. I do seem to recall that the group shelter had some trees down around it but had little or no damage. There was an extensive patch of blow down on the hillside above the road that goes on up to the observation point on Cape Perpetua and I was sale administrator for that sale that was logged by Lincoln Lumber Sales of Newport. Given the height of the Giant Spruce at the time it is certainly possible that the same gust that blew that patch over may have snapped the top out. (Phyllis Steeves has a DVD of a slide I showed last spring of a large log being yarded on that sale.)
Was the Giant Spruce ever core sampled for age, to your knowledge?
Not to my knowledge.
January 13, 2006
James Gerdemann, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus, Botany, University of Illinois and resident of Yachats for 25 years.
“If a visitor wants to see an old growth forest, the Spruce Trail is the most ideal both to access it as it is so close to Yachats and to walk. Visitors bear witness to a natural woodland setting that has never been cut. It is a rare sight indeed to see a mixed natural stand of both spruce and Douglas fir. One is able to view the interplay of Cape Creek and its tributaries as they promote not only the forest stand, but also the beautiful array of wildflowers like the trillium, claytonia, and huge skunk cabbage. The walk is then climaxed by the Giant Spruce that to this day takes my breath as it stands so majestically among this unique and spectacular forest.”
January 26, 2006
Jim Bowers is a Naturalist.
Jim began volunteering at Cape Perpetua in the early 80’s and became an employee soon after, and was Acting Director of Cape Perpetua until 1990.
Jim stated that he saw the Giant Spruce for the first time in the mid-70’s. He was impressed with its antiquity and its spiritual quality.
Jim gave tours throughout Cape Perpetua and loved taking groups to the Giant Spruce.
“It is a ‘potpourri of biodiversity’ along Cape Creek and the Giant Spruce. The Giant Spruce sits with its own kind but also with a mix of old Douglas fir and Hemlock. Further west is a stand of alder that is the first growth after a large mudslide changed the topography of the area and created a natural diversity within the species of trees in this section of forest.”
Jim loved finding and pointing out to groups the variety of plants and animals along the Spruce Trail, and he often encountered surprises. One example was a pair of winter wrens who were standing and screaming on the Spruce Trail. Jim backed off his touring group, and they waited and watched. Soon enough, three little chicks crossed the trail, and their parents then allowed Jim and his group to proceed. Jim and many others have seen the marbled murrelet come up Cape Creek (Cape Creek is designated as a marbled murrelet route), the spotted owl, dippers, phalarope, belted kingfisher, blue herons, and a wide variety of raptors. Roosevelt elk, black-tail deer, coyotes, black bears, bobcat and cougar all call this area their home.
Jim cannot count the number of tours he gave to the Giant Spruce. The variety of groups included children of all ages, families, naturalists, college groups, and interested individuals who walked into the Visitor’s Center. He recalls a family reunion of over 20 members who specifically asked Jim to give them an arranged tour of the Giant Spruce. The one family member who lived locally wanted to introduce her family to the most magnificent tree she had ever seen. Jim stated the family was awestruck.
“We humans have a very inflated opinion of ourselves and our history and at least the white man’s belief in Manifest Destiny. But when I was introduced to the Giant Spruce, my first thought was that we are not the most important things on the face of this earth …… How can we be in face of this magnificent edifice that is well over 500 years old? …… It’s a reverence to be present before this tree. ”
This article was written as a result of working on the application process to nominate the Giant Spruce to become an Oregon Heritage Tree. With the help of many, we gathered information on the Giant Spruce that we wanted to share with all. Therefore, we would like to acknowledge the following for their contributions to creating this article.
Without the permission and solid support of Jose Linares, Forest Supervisor, Siuslaw National Forest, and his staff, including Jennifer Wade, Recreation Planner, and Bill Helphinstine, District Ranger, the Giant Spruce tree would not have been nominated as an Oregon Heritage Tree.
Jody Weeber, Curator, Lincoln County Historical Society, spent hours enthusiastically pouring over archives with us to find information and photos we could use for the nomination of the Giant Spruce and for this article.
Bruce Buckley, Forest Planner, Waldport Ranger Station; Marty Stein, Botanist, Waldport Ranger Station; Russ Volke and Stew Johnston, Silviculturists; Lloyd Palmer, retired Acting Director of Cape Perpetua and Timber Sales Officer; Dean Richmond, Anna Lu Case, and Karl Christianson, Little Log Church and Museum of Yachats; Monica Ihnat, Naturalist; and Betty Bahn, Master Gardener, all contributed their time to give us information about the Giant Spruce. We are also grateful to Elton Knutson, a Siuslaw National Forest Volunteer and photographer, for allowing us to include three of his photos in this article.
We extend special appreciation to a dedicated group of people who have contributed their hearts and souls to their work on behalf of Cape Perpetua over the years. We learned so much and were so inspired by interviews with them that we had to include a summary of those interviews with this article. We gratefully acknowledge Bud Hershberger, Jim Bull, Jim Gerdemann, Jim Bowers, and Lloyd Collett.
Speaking of contributing heart and soul, Phyllis Steeves, Archaeologist with the Siuslaw National Forest, has done so for not only the Siuslaw National Forest, but for local Tribes; and she is an inspiring educator of local history. Phyllis gave generously to us throughout out this project, from searching archives to helping us with substantative details, to help ensure that this article be presented with accuracy and integrity, values Phyllis exemplifies.
We received enthusiastic support for our nomination of the Giant Spruce to become an Oregon Heritage Tree from Lincoln County Historical Society, Little Log Church and Museum of Yachats, Yachats City Council, The Perpetua Foundation, View the Future, and the Yachats Youth and Family Activities Program.
We would like to thank Beth Cook and Andrea Scharf for reviewing this article. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Joan Wikler, MD for her editing of this article. It is Joan who has made the history of the Giant Spruce come alive
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