If you know where to look, there are some chapters of Oregon history that come to life in the great outdoors. In Tillamook County, you can discover much about Native American heritage along a trail built by a community that holds on to their history.
Kilchis Point Reserve is about as “grass roots” as it gets, and Gary Albright’s small army of volunteers have built miles of trails to prove it. “Ah, this place is so wonderful,” said Albright, the Director of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum and leader of the effort to restore the unique 200 acre site. “We will have a couple dry days and then get a wet day and the flora and fauna take on a whole new look. When visitors walk the trail it just takes their breaths away. We have visitors who never get outdoors and just get teary-eyed from the beauty of this place.”
It’s unlike any trail you’ve ever traveled – with old growth spruce trees and tidal churned creeks and lush wetlands always by your side. With imagination, a hike along the Kilchis Point Trail also touches Oregon’s distant past.
Kilchis Point Reserve is the namesake for a community-based restoration project that began in 2011. The site encompasses 200 acres of county-owned forest and wetland property that hugs the eastern shore of Tillamook Bay near Bay City.
200 years ago it was the hub of a Salish Indian culture that may have arrived a thousand years earlier. Albright said the view to the place would have been much different back then: “You would see long cedar buildings – 20 by 60 feet – and then smaller buildings scattered around the site. The nearby streams would be clogged with salmon and there would be waterfowl and shellfish available too. You would not walk more than a hundred yards to find food. Plus, it never froze and it never got too hot. I think it would have been a magical land.”
You can better understand and appreciate this piece of Oregon paradise and learn more about the people who inhabited it when you step inside the newly remodeled Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. There are many ancient artifacts on display, and Albright boasts that there are more than 50,000 artifacts in the museum’s care. He said the collection is constantly growing, too. “Every single day, someone comes in with a donation that has been in the family for decades; something they found on the site but now want it to be cared for by us.”
Albright can also explain how it was that a society of people – numbering in the thousands for hundreds and hundreds of years – seemingly disappeared overnight: “Between 1805 and 1851, the number of Salish people went 2200 to about 400 but they weren’t losing people in wars. They weren’t even fighting with the white settlers…it wasn’t conflict, it was disease! The people were decimated by European diseases.”
Back out on the 2 mile-long Kilchis Point Trail, Albright explained that the Museum and the Reserve go hand in hand as learning experiences that he hopes more people will try. “We tell the story there and then we bring it forward here and hope people come and enjoy both the indoor and outdoor wonder.”
Visitors Cindy Grimmett and Donna Houston said they were amazed by the “wonder of it all.” “You’d think you’ve died and gone to heaven,” noted Grimmett. “This is gorgeous and totally natural and fantastic and you might see a bald eagle.”
In fact, chances are you will see many eagles on a day that is too nice to stay indoors. Chances are you will also be struck by the silence of the place – the quiet can seem deafening and yet the trail is only a stone’s throw from the small burg of Bay City.
“I come here and all my troubles melt away,” said Albright, who admits that he is an unabashed fan and enthusiastic leader of the grandest natural area in Tillamook County. ”When you consider the human activity that occurred here for countless generations, this place is hallowed ground. I feel honored to be taking care of it and protecting it for future generations.”
The remarkable volunteer effort to restore and enhance Kilchis Point Reserve never ends, and Albright is always on the lookout for new volunteers who wish to take care of the site. In fact, a new bird-watching blind is in the works and eventually a Native American cedar long house will be built on the reserve to help tell the story of the native peoples who lived there.