SEASIDE - The concept of Seaside being a city within a park became more real Thursday night when plans for the Necanicum Natural History Park were unveiled.

During an open house, representatives from Jones & Jones, a Seattle architectural and planning firm, displayed maps of the Necanicum estuary that showed where areas might be developed as learning centers.

It was the first opportunity for the public to see the plans and to comment on them.

Those centers, said Wesley Simmonds, a landscape architect with Jones & Jones, will enable those in the watershed to tell their stories about living in and connecting with the estuary.

"You can be connecting stories from the uplands to the tide marshes," Simmonds said. "Those are the stories we're trying to tie together."

A 1,500-square-foot interpretive center at Neawanna Point, for example, would enable residents and visitors to enjoy dramatic views while at the same time consider how tsunamis and shifting sands have changed the beach line over time, how the Clatsop and Nehalem tribes live on the land and how the landscape provided food.

Kiosks, indoor and outdoor classrooms and viewing platforms would be spread throughout the estuary and could include the mill ponds in south Seaside, the beach at the Cove, Thompson Falls to the north and a higher "coastal terrace" area in the foothills east of Seaside.

"We're trying to interpret how things have changed, how the area has grown, how the watershed shaped Seaside," said Simmonds. "It's not just the beach, not just the creek, but also along the benches and in the coastal forests."

Hiking and biking trails would be developed, and canoeing, kayaking and bird watching may also be encouraged.

A variety of sites, with their own particular emphasis, could be connected within the estuary, including "restorative" places, where the land has been brought back from other uses and "learning places," where people can discover what an estuary is and how it shapes the land.

The natural history park design, said Chris Overdorf, another landscape architect with Jones & Jones, will show the "many faces of the Necanicum."

"We're talking about all these different landscape expressions," he said. "If we focus everything into one area, we're losing stories about the entire watershed. There are smaller places that tell stories, with access points, trails that connect them together."

Eventually, Overdorf said, those access points should become part of Seaside's transportation system plan, which the city is developing with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Reaction to the plans was positive, but some audience members wondered how the park would be funded. Overdorf said the park could be developed in phases with different funding sources. Possible sources could be ODOT, as part of the transportation plan; the North Coast Land Conservancy; or the Seaside School District, if an interpretive center is built at one of the future school sites on the east-side hills.

Neal Maine, conservation director at the North Coast Land Conservancy, said he liked the idea of developing the park in phases so each area could be well thought out before the next area was developed.

"The nature trails are already done," Maine said, noting that the fish, elk, birds and other animals have already created their own paths. "Now we are building human trails, and we need to know what we're doing."

The "city in a park" concept represents a mental shift in the way area residents and businesses view their surroundings, said Mary Blake, director of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District.

"This is a great investment in stewardship, health and community values, " Blake said. "We are talking about what is integral and how we take care of our land. This is a real shift."

Allan Jacklich, a Seaside resident and bike rider, said he liked the concept of having a plan to conserve the estuary. "I'm all for it," he said.

Jacklich said he hoped the plan could include a bike path that would extend from Seaside to Cannon Beach.

While Roberta Basch, a member of the Clatsop-Nehalem tribe, was intrigued with educating the public about the estuary, she cautioned the planners that some areas are still sacred sites for the tribal members.

"Everywhere along here are travel stories that teach lessons," Basch said. "Everywhere you go there can be some education. The whole area is sacred.

"There are sacred places where people went to pray that hold special connections today. There are places where there were sweats and winter ceremonies. People went on vision quests here.

"People still find their connections with these places. There are also places where people used to live and they don't want to disturb anything," Basch added. "The church was the land, it wasn't a building. As a tribe - as a group - we have those places."