Bay to Ocean Trail from Nahcotta to Ocean Park

LIFESTYLE: Close To Home - Take a walk from Ocean Park to Nahcotta, Wash.

For Coast Weekend
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Even the optimist among us can't deny the fact: Winter - this one in particular - is wearing down our natural enthusiasm, our exuberance, our joie de vivre.

Whether the six o'clock weather report shoots straight and true, or whether it doesn't, the perception is that another storm is coming, this one with 80 mph winds, or 70 or 60. Any way you slice it, the tourists aren't arriving. Many of us hunker around the television, our brains stuck in neutral.
But have you noticed that nearly every day, there are sun breaks in the heavy gray sky? That the wind drops, that Cullaby, Loomis or Black lakes are placid and approachable. You might even slip a kayak into Youngs Bay or Willapa Bay. You can walk the better-known trails at Fort Stevens, or the long paved bike and jogging trail that snakes along the Astoria waterfront.

There is a new alternative, though still incomplete. That choice is called the Bay Avenue Boardwalk, or Bay to Ocean Trail, your pick. Either way, it links the Pacific at Ocean Park on the Long Beach Peninsula to Willapa Bay, or will when it is finished, this year or the next. In the meantime, it traverses the peninsula east to west, from Sandridge Road to R Street, snaking along Bay Avenue. Where the trail falls short, there is sidewalk. Boardwalk or sidewalk - actually, the trail is asphalt and locals are starting to call it "the path" - this is a happy adventure.
Historically, a boardwalk crossed from ocean to bay. Built in the 1890s, when Ocean Park was a favorite getaway for travelers from Portland and beyond, the edifice fell into disrepair around 1930. In those golden years, travelers reached the oceanside resort by train - the Clamshell Railroad - and paddle wheeler, the T.J. Potter. Ocean Park has had a resurgence in recent years. Relatively unknown if compared to Cannon Beach or Seaside, the village has retained its small-town spirit and friendliness.

The Charles Nelson Guest House begins the westerly journey. Situated at the east end of the trail, the lovely Bed & Breakfast is clean, affordable and outfitted for comfort. Breakfast is superlative. After a number of seasons, Ginger and Kurt Bish have become consummate innkeepers. Their 1920s Sears and Roebuck-furnished home certainly warrants a visit. Stay overnight and unwind by either wandering the new ocean to bay trail, or attempt a more aggressive outreach, say, Leadbetter State Park, a wildlife sightseeing Mecca just 10 miles north. Or wander a few hundred yards up to the Port of Nahcotta. Willapa Bay is the cleanest estuary in the 48 contiguous states. Opportunity for wildlife and sightseeing activities abound. Though the port is mostly a commercial haven for oystermen and crab fishermen, here, weather permitting, kayaking is an inviting opportunity. Long Island is four miles across the bay. It is imperative, however, to watch the tides. Warning to the mariner who tries to hustle the mud flats at low tide: For a century, Willapa Bay was called Shoalwater.

The next noteworthy stop along the trail is Wiegardt Studio Gallery on Bay Avenue. If you can find a brighter star in any coastal gallery, you should buy a painting immediately. Eric Wiegardt can paint with the lithe and dexterous brushstroke of a young Impressionist. His colors spangle. Dangle. Jump off the paper, leaving the observer dazzled by the rich watercolor experience.
Andrea Weir has a glass studio just 100 yards west from the Wiegardt gallery. Serious collectors purchase her stunning fused and stained glass. The Weir Studio is a working glass studio, which means a 1,500-degree kiln.

If the two art studios aren't enough incentive to get you onto the peninsula, here on Bay Avenue are Jack's Country Store, Sweet Williams and two fun bookstores, one in place, and the second, up and coming. The Dunes restaurant and the Berry Patch remain local favorites, as does Doc's Tavern, an authentic hold-over from the Old West. And there is much more, more than can be mentioned in a short article. Jack's is so authentic, so complete! You can find anything at Jack's, whether a prime rib or a live animal trap. Transferred to the Smithsonian, the hardware section of the building would fit in like a yesteryear architectural wonder.

A block away, Catherine O'Toole, a charming Englishwoman, runs the perfect spend-the-afternoon-rummaging kind of bookstore. There are more used books than new. On a rainy and wind-hurling day, huddle inside like a mole.
Across the street, Sweet Williams remains the most attractive of gift shops. Katie Williams travels far and wide to fill her pretty displays. Katie's affability is genuine and heartwarming.

The old Taylor Hotel is undergoing a new incarnation. By the time this article appears, or soon thereafter, devotees of the Victorian should be serving coffee, pastries and nibbles, and - of course - selling those wonderful new books. The hotel was built before the turn of the 19th century, and has served its discerning guests as a popular eating house, hotel and gallery. Stay tuned.Lunch was the luck of the draw: final destination, Full Circle Café on the Ocean Park approach. This writer and his photographer were delighted at the choices. Purveyors of what's sometimes labeled as comfort food, Colleen and Gary Smith strive for extra yardage. Lunch for two consisted of a homemade chicken pot pie with a delicate biscuit crust and a generous square of cranberry mousse just like Mom's; a thick creamy chowder abounding with clam flavors with just a hint of dill; a heaping mound of creamy potato salad - a side for exploratory purposes - and a fresh green salad with homemade cranberry vinaigrette. Dessert was a command performance: lemon cello cake soaked in liquor and enhanced with Mascarpone cheese and a lemon curd filling. At $3.50 for the cake, one feels like a carpetbagger, sucking profits out of this cheerful family establishment. Some restaurants call this kind of a bargain, a loss leader. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch.

If that wasn't good enough, next door is a wool shop arranged for the craftsperson in us all. Tapestry Rose Yarn Shop is a feast for a knitter's discerning eye, a collection of yarns in every hue and color. And of course, you get to visit with Colleen, and she is a delight, a gregarious woman with manicured tastes.

Detouring down Park Avenue on the ride south, the sturdy pickup truck, passenger and driver toured the pretty beach houses that distinguish the evergreen-lined boulevard. There, at the top of a fat spruce tree, our ensemble stumbled onto a bald eagle. From his precarious perch, the raptor appeared to be searching for a free lunch, hopefully, one as good as ours. Many Native Americans still consider the bird as a good luck omen. After such a perfect afternoon, it was hard to disagree.
Photo descriptions top to bottom:

The Bay to Ocean Trail is so named because it extends from Willapa Bay in Nahcotta, Wash., to the Pacific Ocean in Ocean Park, Wash.

The Charles Nelson Guest House sits at the corner of Bay Avenue and Sandridge Roada in Nahcotta, Wash. It is the perfect starting point for walking the Bay to Ocean Trail, which runs from Nahcotta to Ocean Park, Wash.

The oyster is king on Willapa Bay in Nahcotta, Wash. This sign marks a good starting point for someone wishing to take a walk or bike ride along the Bay to Ocean Trail.

Jack's Country Store in Ocean Park, Wash., does a robust retail as well as catalog business. Wandering through it is like stepping back in time. It is one of many landmarks along the Bay to Ocean Trail in Ocean Park.

Eric Wiegardt's watercolors can be viewed at his studio on Bay Road, just off the Bay to Ocean Trail in Ocean Park, Wash.

Sweet Williams is an eclectic gift shop run by Katie Williams in Ocean Park, Wash., on the Bay to Ocean Trail. Katie's shop has been drawing tourists and locals for 13 years.
The Full Circle Café is a great place to stop for refueling after hiking or bicycling the Bay to Ocean Trail in ocean Park, Wash. The building also houses a well-stocked yarn and needlecraft store, Tapestry Rose.

This delightful cake is called 'Lemon Cello' and is served at the Full Circle Café on the approach to the ocean in Ocean Park, Wash., at the end of the Bay to Ocean Trail.