In 2014, folks from the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership and the stewardship organization WEBS (Watersheds Estuaries Bays and Streams) collaborated together to try and offer interpretive tours in and around the area that pertain to ecology and natural resources. Since then the program has expanded exponentially and subsequently the Explore Nature series was born.
During the first year, the tours were mainly relegated to kayaking the myriad watersheds of the Tillamook area and learning more about the resident oyster industry based around Netarts and Tillamook bays. Through partnership with tour operators like Kayak Tillamook and Tillamook Eco Adventures, the program was able to bring on guided interpretive journeys to offer anyone interested at no cost whatsoever.
In 2015, with a number of tours and activities under their belt, they decided to appeal to the newly formed Visit Tillamook Coast organization to go after some of the TLT grant monies available – turned out it was exactly what they needed.
“The grant money we got from the TLT was without a doubt instrumental in making this all take shape,” Director of WEBS Chrissy Smith, said. “It helped create the printed calendars, messaging and the website to help bring more people into the program.”
Smith spearheaded much of the Explore Nature program by forming part of it around her signature “Art of Growing Oysters” interpretive tour, which is focused around the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. The tour involves an in-depth look behind the scenes of one of the west coast’s only privately run shellfish hatcheries.
Participants get to look through the microscope at young oyster larvae before they solidify their shells, they also get to walk through the hatchery and check out the massive fiberglass containers they use to allow the microscopic larvae to feed and live safely away from predators. In addition, there is a demonstration on the effects of ocean acidification – which the juvenile shellfish are very susceptible to as they use the inherent calcium in the waters to form their protective shells. The tour also brings visitors out to other spots that are associated with the oyster industry such as the boat that Pacific Seafood uses to get oysters from the shallow Tillamook Bay.
“It’s a chance for people to see up close and personal the effects of pH imbalance in the seawater,” Smith said. “And also potentially try their hand at sampling some freshly cooked oysters too.”
Much of that tour has grown into a free – or nearly free – program for people to not only learn about nature but also get outside and enjoy it too. Guided hikes, guided walks, paddle tours, photography trips, birding, gardening activities, clamming workshops and more. There are currently enough activities to have one per week throughout the entire year, though according to Claudine Rhen, deputy director of Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, there’s still some work to be done before they can consistently offer the courses throughout the entire year.
Since the program has been gaining steam there have been other ecological organizations that have joined the fray to entice locals and visitors to the coast and watersheds of Tillamook County. The Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, Friends of Netarts Bay, WEBS, the Lower Nehalem Community Trust, Lower Nehalem Watershed Council, the Nestucca, Neskowin and Sand Lake Watershed Councils, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership and the Tillamook Bay Watershed Council to name a few involved organizations.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the overwhelming response to the Explore Nature programs,” Rhen said. “We’re excited to see how we can get this out there to folks in whatever different ways we can come up with.”
If you are interested in finding out more about the Explore Nature programs being offered, or by the organization itself then check out their website at: www.explorenaturetillamookcoast.com.