Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Join Guided Group on South Slough Kayak Trip
By Tom Baake
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Canoeists paddle through the peaceful waters of South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Charleston.

People ask if there are any groups that get together for kayaking or stand-up paddling (SUP). Sort of like a waterborne version of the hiking group South Coast Striders. There were in fact a few groups over the years, but I’m not aware of any that are active these days. If you’re out there, please email me at tom@scod.com.

Meantime, the sport of paddling continues to gain popularity. At a recent outdoor recreation forum in North Bend by the state’s tourism department – Travel Oregon – we heard from Dave Lacey, an ocean kayaking outfitter in Gold Beach who discussed an upcoming second location in Prosper, near Bandon. The plan is to offer rentals and trips, he said.

The long-range dream of creating a “water trail” on the Coquille River has been revived, with discussions about overnight camping and other amenities. The same challenges as of yore dog the plan, however, since most of the land along the river is privately owned and it’s been difficult to find landowners willing to go along with the idea. It would also obviously have to be something people did in summer and early fall, since the river routinely overtops its banks in many places during the rainy season.

These talks and developments shed light on what is a relatively under-utilized recreational resource here on the South Coast, except perhaps during fishing season – namely, our many waterways. You could spend a long time, years maybe, exploring all the places to canoe, kayak or SUP on our many lakes, rivers, estuaries and bays.

There are places you can only get to via a waterborne approach. Many bodies of water hold seldom-visited islands, and there’s even a lake where you can boat in and stay at one of a half-dozen developed campsites.

Back on the subject of the Coquille River, it’s one of two waterways in Coos County – along with the Coos River -- with the remarkable attribute of being tidally influence for more than 30 miles inland. The advantages were immediately recognizable to the region’s original inhabitants. Indians plied the waters in many kinds of canoes and other craft. And why not? It was rough-going on land and here was a waterway on which great distances could be covered relatively barrier-free, and if you timed it right and traveled with the tides, you hardly even had to paddle!

White explorers and settlers figured it out as well, and as steam and gas motors improved, vessels added a mechanical advantage to tidal-enhanced trips, or pushed against it if necessary.

Advancements and improvements found their way to sport and recreational boating, with hundreds of bewildering choices, from jet-motor equipped fishing boats to the latest tricked-out kayaks. The popularity of SUPs continues to boom, and an interesting aspect of that sport is that it’s still relatively young and there are still some challenges to be met.

For example, has anyone gone on a SUP on the Coquille River from the head of tidewater above Myrtle Point clear down to the ocean at Bandon?

Another neat thing about paddling is that you can do ambitious trips that involve vehicle shuttles and multiple hours, or just find a handy body of water and take a little “lunch hour” outing. In the North Bend/Coos Bay area, for example, find peaceful respite in the twin lakes in John Topits Park, just minutes from busy city streets.

Dunes Country lakes begin about 6 miles north of the Bay Area at Saunders Lake in Jack Ripper County Park. Next are Ten Mile Lakes in Lakeside, and nearby Eel Lake.

Farther north, explore Tahkenitch, Siltcoos, Woahink and Cleawox lakes, as well as the unique Siltcoos River Canoe Trail. Siltcoos Lake is also the place where you’ll find the aforementioned boat-in (or hike or bike-in) campsites.

The best-known place is South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Charleston. Which brings us back to the subject of this article. They offer the only group treks I’m aware of, with the next one set for this Saturday, March 25. They go from Charleston about 4 miles up into the reserve, or vice versa, depending on the tide. A vehicle shuttle returns paddlers to the starting point. Get more information at the South Slough website or call (541-888-5558).

Whether you go with the group, with friends, or on your own – waterways await you!

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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