From the property line of Neawanna Point Marsh on the Necanicum Estuary to the present day Neacoxie Creek, there is a wonderment of exploration featuring an amalgamation of plant life, wildlife, ghost forests, gravel berms, sand dunes, erosion, flooding and regrowth. All part of a sacred Native American parcel of land rich in geological history.
As part of North Coast Land Conservancy’s Summer on the Land series, local resident and geologist Tom Horning led a tour through the estuary and along the river’s edge, shedding light on its geological history, impact, and wildlife visitors who made an appearance.
The confluence of the Necanicum River, the Neawanna and Neacoxie creeks are an important area of ecological and cultural significance since the first settlers thousands of years ago. Clear cutting of the forest happened here at least twice in 100 years, with the most recent occurring in the 1950s.
A Native American village once existed in the distance. Under the 1851 Treaty of Tansy Point, this property was intended for tribal ownership; however, Congress never ratified the treaty. The area is still considered sacred land to the Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe, and only by permission can visitors walk onto this land. Discovered artifacts date back to the early 1800s and as early as 2,500 years ago for the ancient village.
Neawanna Point was once in jeopardy of a proposed condominium development in the 1990s. Architects of the development envisioned the area to include tennis courts and parking lots with upwards of 95 condominium units. After several years of exploring options and discovering evidence of ancient village sites, the property owners transferred ownership of the land to be stewarded by North Coast Land Conservancy in 1998.
Horning commented that shoreline vegetation is being killed with heavy use of the riverbank by fishermen and crabbers, yet some grasses and plants have survived on the less treaded areas of the terrace. The property is now closed to fishing and crabbing, but protecting the marshland around Neawanna Point continues to be a challenge, and much of the damaged area is slowly recovering.
Along the middle terrace large depressions have been left by heavy logs washed on shore by storm surges, forming moats that drained water as the terrace grew. This in turn formed channel ways to serve as habitat for juvenile coho salmon, he explained. Because some depressions become entrapped in vegetation and cannot collect a sediment build up, they remain as open ponds.
On the east side of the upper terrace is a subsided forest. Horning refers to this as “Seaside’s ghost forest” for what remains are the roots, stumps and logs of large Sitka spruce trees that grew to 8-feet in diameter; it is a product of a forest that drowned 318 years ago in January 1700. “That’s when we had our most recent great subduction zone earthquake,” Horning said.
Along the creek channel, west of the ghost forest is a gravel sheet of rounded cobble stones. Made of basalt, the stones are from Tillamook Head, deposited into the ocean by landslides, washed to the Cove by storm waves and then washed north up the beach over time. Horning explained that it may have been possible the earthquakes caused the landslide and possibly tsunamis helped move the rocks.
“No other places are built up with a large amount of round cobble like Seaside has. In the literature, you don’t hear about the high energy coarse sediment these rocks represent, being transported by waves. The cobble berm on the other side of the forest was formed over 2,500 years ago and now marks the east shore of the Neacoxie.”
Nearer to Neacoxie Creek, the cobbles mark the continuation of the berm beneath the main river channel. “The pioneers thought perhaps the Indian people had piled rocks here to provide a shallow crossing of the river. As it turns out, the berm is entirely natural and probably survived even the 1700 tsunami,” Horning explained.
Along the upper terrace, tsunami researchers have cored the sediment layers of that part of Neawanna Point and found sand layers from both the 1964 and 1700 tsunamis. Horning pointed toward the upland field, an ocean beach about 2,800 years ago.
The tour ended where it began, at the Reuben Snake memorial where stories of sacrifice and rebirth become synonymous to the geological landscape of the area. For Snake’s persistence in fighting for the rights of the Native American Church in allowing the use of peyote, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act amendment of 1994 became a lasting monument to Snake’s memory.