a vision takes root
A newly installed split cedar rail fence greets visitors at the entrance to Alder Creek Farm. It’s a sign of the summer’s intense work to realize the Nehalem Teaching Trail vision: a hands-on learning experience that invites audiences to investigate native plants, their habitats, and the ancient Indian traditions surrounding their uses.
Follow the trail and you will discover footbridges crossing both Alder Creek and a wetlands of sedges and rushes for basket weaving, wooden gates of wondrous craftsmanship, a rocky peak habitat, and soft, wood-chipped trails under foot. For founding board members Vivi Tallman and Doug Firstbrook, the teaching trail idea grew out of early conversations with scholar and ethnobotanist, Douglas Deur, Ph.D.
“Education oriented from its very beginning, the Trust’s board readily embraced the notion,” said Doug Firstbrook whose tireless leadership energized the trail’s build-out over the summer. “There are many diverse ecosystems present on this 55 acres of land,” he added. “We were alive in the land of possibilities, so a trail based on the regional flora with the opportunity to learn their historical and cultural significances seemed like a natural next step that would benefit the entire community.”
In 2008 Doug Deur developed what would become the Nehalem Teaching Trail codex, a 20-page overview of indigenous plants that interpret the Nehalem region’s ethnobotany (scientific study of the relationships between peoples and plants). A research professor at Portland State University, Dr. Deur serves as cultural ecologist for American tribes. He co-edited Keeping It Living, about Pacific Northwest Native American plant traditions, and Nehalem Teaching Trail: A Vision Takes Root published Pacific Northwest Foraging (Timber Press, 2014), a New York Times best seller.
Although conservation easements restrict the use of much of Alder Creek Farm’s land, with Judy Sorrel’s recent donation of Sorrel Woods, now more than 9 unrestricted acres are available outside the conservation easements. The riparian meadow and more wild, forested uplands of Sorrel Woods offer opportunities to seamlessly extend the trail with increasing degrees of meander and the benefits of beautiful, scenic overlooks. Next steps include seeking funding to create interpretative signs and a companion brochure. “This is not a hiking trail,” said Doug, “it’s a learning experience. It’s about the greater community taking what they learn about plants and habitats and then using it for a greater purpose and connection to our land.”