Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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New River Always Worthy Of a Visit in Any Season
By Tom Baake
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A visitor checks out the edges of New River south of Bandon.

All this rain keeps tamping down the sand, making it easier to walk places that usually require more effort. Ocean beaches are an obvious example, as are the Oregon Dunes. Another is the New River area south of Bandon, where sandy parts of some of the trails that usually require some slow-going slogging are now noticeably firmer.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls 1356 acres in what’s officially called the New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern. No development or extractive industry is allowed, but there’s limited recreation in the form of four miles of easy hiking trails, a seasonally-accessible boat ramp and other modest amenities such as restrooms, observations shelters and picnic tables. It’s open for day-use year round and there’s no entry fee. There are some seasonal closures to protect nesting shorebirds.

Still, this place is different from a lot of other parks and preserves on the Oregon coast. For one thing, the river runs the wrong way.

Actually, New River runs north, which is not necessarily wrong, but unusual. It’s the outlet of Floras Creek, Fourmile Creek and other smaller creeks, and was formed when a particularly rainy winter in 1890 increased steam flows.  With its mouth clogged at the ocean, the creek carved a northward channel to find another way, and it’s now about 10 miles long. A local rancher supposedly took a look and exclaimed, “It’s a new river!”

It runs through brushy dunes, dense coastal forests, open areas once used as ranchlands, and along the way feeds freshwater lakes, seasonal wetlands and pillowy meadows. It’s home to all kinds of four-footed critters, along with an impressive assortment of birds that live here year round and others that pass through on seasonal migrations.

The birdlife is so abundant, in fact, that it sometimes feels like you’re walking in a huge, open-air aviary. According to the Cape Arago Audubon Society’s guidebook “Birding the Southern Oregon Coast, “the best birding is found along the river. All kinds of waterfowl can be found, including Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and American Wigeon. Many other species likely to be seen include Northern Shoveler, Hooded Merganser and Tundra Swans,” the guidebook states.

During migrations (such as now and in the coming weeks), you might also spot Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, dowitchers, Whimbrel, godwit, Snowy and American Golden Plovers and peeps (no, not the Easter candy; there’s actually a real bird with that name.) Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers have also been sighted here, according to the guidebook.

Indeed, it’s a veritable avian songfest as you sidle through this special place.

Getting There

From the stoplight in Bandon at US 101 and 11th Ave., go south on US 101 about 8.7 miles. Turn right (W) on Croft Lake Ln., which rolls through ranchlands and cranberry bogs. At a “Y” intersection in 1.5 miles, bear right, following a sign to New River. The road arrives at the Storm Ranch site, with a picnic area, restrooms, interpretive signs, the Ellen Waring Learning Center, and a camp host shelter. An excellent trail brochure is sometimes available, and a map/sign shows trail routes. You can use several trails to make loops of varying distances.

The access road continues west, passing trailheads for the Old Bog Trail and East Muddy Lake Trail, and ending in about a half-mile at a gate that blocks vehicle access along this stretch to protect nesting shorebirds March 15 to Sept. 15. Here too is the trailhead for the West Muddy Lake trail. Along the way on that trail is the Ocean View Spur, a sidetrail which a leads to the edge of New River and a glimpse at the ocean beyond.

It’s permissible to walk north on the access road, which in 0.3 mile comes to a day-use area with restroom, picnic tables and the aforementioned boat launch. You could keep walking north to link with trails that lead back to the Storm Ranch site.

Or pick your way along the shoreline back southward, cutting inland at the Ocean View Spur. Just one of many potential little loops. No great distances covered, just short journeys in another of the South Coast’s unique little jewels. And the birdsong accompaniment is free . . .

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