In its largest land acquisition ever, the Lower Nehalem Community Trust now owns 111 acres of forestland on the south slope of Neahkahnie Mountain for conservation.
The property, known as “The Headwaters,” is connected to the southern edge of Oswald West State Park and runs nearly a mile south. The area holds ecological significance both for its large, mixed-age timber and for the tributaries that feed into the Neahkahnie Creek watershed below, the land trust said.
“We’re pretty excited. The fact the community gets to have community forestland like this is a big deal for us,” Doug Firstbrook, a board member for the land trust, said.
The acquisition began last summer when Firstbrook heard about 181 acres near Neahkahnie Mountain was going to be logged. He got ahold of plans published by the Oregon Department of Forestry and contacted the local point person who represented the landowners, which were two California-based development companies: Seventeen Enterprises LLC and Pacific Land Conservation LLC.
Firstbrook told the representative he was concerned about how a logging operation would affect properties the land trust had worked to restore downstream, including a marsh restoration project above Neahkahnie Lake and Alder Creek Farm, a community garden and ethnobotanical trail.
The companies took a tour with Firstbrook to look at areas of concern, but ultimately logged about 30 acres of the property later that summer. About a year later, Firstbrook heard again from the development companies, but this time they asked if the trust would be interested in acquiring the land for conservation.
“They needed a mechanism for a tax write-off and were looking for a conservation group,” Firstbrook said. “My name came up because of the tour we took before.”
In September, the development companies donated 111 acres — along with about $22,000 for replanting and maintenance costs — to the land trust. The companies still own the other 70 acres, which are zoned residential, for future development, Firstbrook said.
“We’re pleased it happened so quickly. Often these kinds of projects can take an inordinate amount of time,” he said.
In addition to its conservation value, the land is also significant due to its proximity to one of Oregon’s largest state parks. The land trust is in conversations with Connie Soper, a trail advocate working with Manzanita to extend the existing Neahkahnie Hiking Trail. Doing so would help connect a gap in the Oregon Coast Trail, which now routes hikers out onto U.S. Highway 101 before reconnecting at Manzanita Beach.
Firstbrook said the land trust has to consider whether it has enough to resources to take on the responsibilities of ongoing trail maintenance, as well as look into whether the trail would have any negative impacts.
Trail or not, the land trust considers the donation as a conservation win.
“We feel any significant amount of ground we can protect, any trees we can see grow … is an imperative ecological service to provide to the public,” he said.