GEARHART — When Gearhart Elementary School’s 9-year-old McKenna Roberts took a field trip with her class to the formerly unnamed loop trail in southern Gearhart, “There was birds on it, and it was by the beach, and it was a trail,” she said. Thus, her winning name, “Birdy Beach Trail,” was born.
The fourth-grader was one of more than 30 Gearhart students who participated in the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s recent “Name the Trail!” contest, which started in early October when Park Ranger Brian Fowler visited the school with his friend, Tilda the snowy plover. He challenged students to take ownership of the project.
Later that month, students from six classes took field trips to the trail, which is adjacent to the Gearhart Ocean State Recreation Area at Little Beach. The start of the trail is near the parking lot on H Street, and it goes along the dunes near the ocean and the Necanicum Estuary spit.
Roberts enjoys going to the beach and swimming in the ocean. Knowing that a name she thought up will be permanently associated with the trail is “kind of exciting,” she said.
Fowler announced Roberts’ trail name entry as the winner during an assembly at Gearhart Elementary Dec. 19.
She received a plaque signed by state parks Director Lisa Van Laanen and Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop, who attended the assembly. Roberts also got a tote bag with a T-shirt and other gifts from the department.
Roberts walked the trail, participated in shorebird-related activities and played games on the field trip with fourth-grade teacher Becky Seybold’s class.
“It was cool,” she said.
Fowler said the activities helped teach the students about other inhabitants of the beach, including migratory shorebirds such as snowy plovers. The students learned about migratory patterns and the challenges birds face in terms of escaping predators and building safe temporary resting places.
Important Bird Area
The National Audubon Society has labeled the Necanicum Estuary, the site of the trail, as an Important Bird Area.
Parts of the trail have been in place for many years, some officially to provide beach access for emergency service vehicles, others created unofficially by pedestrians using the area. To help connect the different parts of the trail and make a path that would not be detrimental to wildlife using the area, the city and the state parks department created the loop, which was completed this past spring with the help of an AmeriCorps group.
The trail was left nameless, though, and that’s where the students came in.
“What better way to bring that awareness (about conservation) than through the youth in our community?” Fowler said.
The department and city received more than 30 entries from second- to fifth-graders and narrowed it down to the top 10 choices based on local, natural and geographic resources and appeal. The department opened the contest to the public in mid-November so people could pick their favorite. About 1,520 people voted. A majority of the votes came from Clatsop County; the rest were from outside the county, and even a small fraction was from outside the state, Fowler said.
The runners up to “Birdy Beach Trail,” which received about 80 percent of votes, were “Watch, Listen, and See Trail,” “Sandy Shores Trail,” “Whispering Footprints Trail,” “Tippy Toe Trail,” “Beachway Trail,” “Grass-Sea Trail,” “Critter Beach Walk,” “Eagle View Trail” and “Dune Ridge Trail.”
Although only one name was selected, Fowler said the whole school has ownership of the trail.
“This is your guys’ trail. This is Gearhart Elementary’s trail,” he told students at the assembly. “So every time you go out there, take some pride in that.”
After the holidays, the department will finish installing directional signs and an overview map at the trail, bearing the new name.
Overall, involving children in the process of picking a trail name was “so smooth and so successful,” Fowler said. He chalked it up to the support and enthusiasm the department received from Principal Juli Wozniak, teachers and the city.
Since Oregon’s beaches are publicly owned, individuals must find a way to share the space with other inhabitants, for both parties’ benefit.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Fowler said. “This process has really shown how a community can get behind it.”
‘This is your guys’ trail. This is Gearhart Elementary’s trail.’
— Brian Fowler