SEASIDE - Five years is barely a blink on nature's timeline.

But it's long enough for a rainforest to be reborn on the North?Coast Land Conservancy's Circle Creek property in Seaside.

Katie Voelke walked every inch of the site's cow pasture five years ago as the nonprofit's land steward.

She marked every slope and soggy depression, tested soil composition and hydrology and mapped out a future forest that would look something like the one that used to be there.

Then, she and others dragged decomposing logs back onto the dairy farm, which was thoroughly cleared of trees generations ago. Volunteers planted more than 8,000 saplings and shrubs strategically across the pasture and along the banks of the creek.

Now, Voelke is the executive director of the land conservancy, and the pasture is transforming before her eyes.

"This was very much a pasture," she said. "Now, it is a rainforest. It's just a very young rainforest."

On Saturday, NCLC is celebrating Earth Day by inviting the public to continue planting the site's future forest. The celebration will include a tour of the much more mature Sitka spruce forest on a neighboring tract of the land trust's 364-acre Circle Creek property, as well as tours of amphibian habitat and activities for people of all ages. The events begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the big barn at the Circle Creek Conservation Center, 32825 Rippet Lane, in Seaside.

The forested wetland emerging at Circle Creek is just one example of the natural history that is growing and changing all around us, Voelke said.

"Natural history is a term people use to describe how we fit in, interact with and benefit from the natural environment," she said. "How we are affected by the landscape and how the landscape is affected by us."

A Natural History Park, including 600 acres of NCLC's Necanicum River and Neawanna Creek wetlands, is taking shape in Seaside.?This summer, the land trust will hold monthly recognizing events natural history by looking at the role of beavers, pollinators, estuaries, coastal marshes, aquatic food webs and ancient forests.

"Our area is rich with natural history," said Voelke. "In reality it's just the world around us that's living, breathing and constantly changing. You can experience the same place in different ways day after day. With different tides, wind storms, migrations, there's an ever-changing presence. It's what makes this place all of our homes."

There were more than 200 cows grazing on the Circle Creek pasture when NCLC bought the property. The land trust eliminated grazing last year, reducing soil compaction. Now, skunk cabbage - a telltale sign of wetland habitat - is sprouting up all over the place.

"Seeing these skunk cabbage pop through, we know something happened to allow that to be more of a wetland," Voelke said. "Some of it is the land itself starting to heal and reclaim its natural pathways."

Voelke and other land trust leaders are careful to call their shaping of Circle Creek "habitat development" rather than "restoration" in recognition of the constantly evolving natural history of the North Coast landscape. Land can never be fully restored to what it once was, they say, and even if it could, someone would have to decide what point in its long history it should be restored to.

"Instead, we're looking at the landscape and thinking about what it might want to do if it were going to be functioning for wildlife habitat and natural processes," said Teresa Retzlaff, NCLC development director. "Given that its productive life as a farm is no longer needed, what other use will it have?"

Retzlaff said Earth Day planting activities give everyone a chance to connect with the landscape and participate in natural history.

"When you physically plant a tree, you're connected,"?she said. "There's an emotional attachment to that plant. You know it can live for hundreds of years, long after you're dead."

A pre-event ceremony, The Forest Remembers, will take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in a special grove of 90-year old spruce trees on behalf of all those who have made contributions to NCLC in memory of a loved one. All are welcome to attend.

Earth Day events at Circle Creek begin at 10 a.m. with refreshments, displays and a hands-on seed starting project for edible gardens. The rest of the day will proceed as follows:

? At 10:30 a.m. field programs include a tour of the Sitka spruce forest with NCLC Conservation Director Neal Maine, a tour of native re-forestation plantings with NCLC Executive Director Katie Voelke, and a hunt for amphibians with local ecologist Mike Patterson.

? At noon, programs will break for a barbecue. Suggested donation $4.

? At 1:00 p.m., NCLC Stewardship Director Celeste Coulter will lead a tree planting project, adding to more than 8,000 native trees and shrubs that have been planted at Circle Creek in the last five years.

The plants - including 6-foot cascara, 3-foot Sitka spruce, red alder, Western red cedar, alderberry and Indian plum - came from the Bureau of Land Management Native Plant Resource Center in Tillamook.

Coulter said alder trees are the first to move into a site after it's been disturbed because they have the ability to heal the soil as nitrogen fixers. Then other native plants can move in and get established. A tree canopy shades out invasive plants such as tansy and blackberry, which need sunlight to thrive. Coulter said her goal is to get enough volunteers to put in 1,000 plants at Circle Creek Saturday.

"We continue to keep planting the pasture. We fill up one area and move to another area," she said. "We love getting the community involved because people can come back year after year and see how their trees are growing. It becomes a community forest rather than something that's owned by the North Coast Land Conservancy."

Saturday's event is free, and takes place mostly outdoors. Sturdy walking shoes are recommended for the field programs.

A map and directions to Circle Creek are available at the NCLC website:?(


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