Donors and other stakeholders in the Columbia Land Trust got a view of South Tongue Point from the water Friday as the group tries to fill a funding gap to purchase the property and turn it into salmon and wildlife habitat for Clatsop Community College.
The land trust approached the college about purchasing South Tongue Point four years ago. Warrenton Fiber had applied to clear and develop the land, created between the mid-1940s through the 1970s by soil dredged from nearby rivers and islands.
“South Tongue Point represents another piece in the broader restoration picture of the entire Columbia estuary, and the educational opportunity makes it all the more valuable,” Glenn Lamb, executive director of the land trust, told a group of stakeholders gathered at the college.
South Tongue Point sits on the western edge of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge and near another land trust restoration project at Twilight Marsh. The land trust has preserved more than 2,100 acres on the lower 80 miles of the Columbia River.
The land trust has raised more than $1.4 million toward the purchase of the southern two-thirds of South Tongue Point and hopes to fill a final $141,000 funding gap through grants and private donations. The land would be restored under the direction of the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, a local habitat restoration group, and transferred to the college as a living laboratory for an environmental science program.
The college recently closed on more than 20 acres at the north end of South Tongue Point, where it has rented land since the mid-1990s for the Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station. The career-technical training campus hosts automotive, welding, firefighting and maritime science programs. For the past six months, faculty and the administration have been planning an environmental science program.
Christopher Breitmeyer, the college president and a former environmental science teacher at Yavapai College in Arizona, touted the unique opportunity for real-world research connected to the local environment. He plans to teach one of the environmental science courses.
“The best way to learn science is to do science, and that’s what we’ll do at South Tongue Point,” Breitmeyer said.
The college’s last attempt at an environmental science program about 15 years ago fizzled because of a lack of enrollment, said Michael Bunch, a longtime biology teacher at the college. The new program will be closely tied to the community, Breitmeyer said.
The college plans a degree track for field biologists and another for environmental policy and law, along with yearlong certificates in forestry, fisheries, environmental remediation and other areas that can put graduates directly into the local workforce, Breitmeyer said.
With its location along one of the largest estuarine environments in the world, the North Coast hosts researchers, stewards, restorationists and others in the environmental field with the government, nonprofits like the Columbia Land Trust and interests like the task force.
The first step for the college is to assess the resources of South Tongue Point before creating field assignments for students, Breitmeyer said. His students at Yavapai College received similar field experience.
“Students got publications,” he said. “They got job offers. That’s exactly what we’re expecting here.”
Lamb invoked the historical stewardship of the region by the Chinookan people as an overarching reason why South Tongue Point needs to be preserved and used as a way to empower the next generation of land stewards and conservationists.
Tony Johnson, chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, addressed the group of stakeholders on the importance of preserving the land.
The ability to spend millions preserving land is a privilege the land- and cash-poor Chinook Indian Nation doesn’t have, Johnson said. The group recently spent around $200,000 buying 10 acres at Tansy Point, a historical village where tribal members negotiated a treaty with the Oregon Territory to avoid relocation east of the Cascade Mountains. The $200,000 represented the most money the group had ever assembled, he said.
Johnson touched on the importance of Tongue Point, a stopping point for Chinookan historical figure Coyote and the site of a graveyard. “It’s a sacred place, and it should be considered that,” he said.