You dip your paddle into the quiet water and pull it back. Tiny whirlpools on either side of the blade ensure that you’ve made a good stroke. In the distance, you hear waves crashing and the sweet, whistled tu-wheet sound of the snowy plovers filling the air. The birds are welcoming you to the Necanicum Estuary.
Just outside the hustle and bustle of Seaside on the north end of town, the Necanicum, Neawanna and Neacoxie waterways converge. Sacred to the Clatsop peoples, the land, waters and sustenance they provide highlight just how important this area has been from ancient times to today.
Wildlife and marine species abound in this quiet area. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons dive at lightning-fast speed for coho salmon during spawning season. Hardworking and crafty North American river otters search for any clams with the passing of the tides. Birds sing their songs throughout the year, including the resident osprey and blue herons, and migrating barn and tree swallows. On occasion, you may even spot Roosevelt elk near the shoreline, but keep your distance from these large animals, who may not appreciate you as much as you do them.
“It’s a special place where people live yet wildlife still thrives,” says Noah Dolinajec, executive director of the Necanicum Watershed Council.
What to See at Low and High Tides
The estuary has two moods, depending on the tide. At low tide, the Necanicum River and Pacific Ocean creep back and expose a wide expanse of sand — with tufts of seagrass, pieces of driftwood and the signatures of little creatures left in their wake. This is the best time to explore on foot. At high tide, it’s a flurry of activity as marine birds search for their next meal. You’ll best enjoy this phase from the water in a kayak. Either way, wear sturdy shoes and bring along your trusty binoculars to watch the show.
Wildlife Watching and Crabbing
There are several places to take in the Necanicum Estuary by foot. For a short stroll or a more rigorous walk to the confluence of the Pacific and the mouth of the river, park at the small lot at the end of North Franklin Street, past 18th Avenue. There are plenty of places where you can settle in and relax. Just don’t be surprised if you find countless birds deciding to rest a spell with you.
Another great place to watch wildlife is located right behind the old Seaside High School on Holladay Street, overlooking the Necanicum Estuary Natural History Park. It’s a simple wooden platform, but one with stunning views of the birding sanctuary. Grab your binoculars, pull up a camping chair and keep your eyes peeled for migrating western sandpipers and whimbrels during April and September as they fly overhead.
For those interested in catching some of Seaside’s finest delicacies — the Dungeness crabs that proliferate in the waters of the estuary — learn the ropes and purchase a shellfish license ahead of time. Then join residents who drop crab pots off the 12th Avenue bridge that crosses the Necanicum River, tying their leads to the cement rails. You’ll need to purchase gear and bait at a local fly shop like Trucke’s 1-Stop on the south end of town or Bud’s RV Park & Campground’s market on the north. Parking is free — so is playground fun — at cute little Goodman Park on the west side of the bridge. Or just set up your chair and watch fish jumping in the river and birds soaring overhead as the catch of the day comes in.
Paddling the Rivers
If you’ve got a kayak, it’s easy enough to head down the stairs near this platform and join rainbow ducks paddling toward the heart of the estuary, as well. For those who have more time, and if the water’s right, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at Cleanline Surf or Seaside Surf Shop in town, or right on the water at Wheel Fun Rentals by the convention center.
Launch from Quatat Park, just a stone’s throw from the busy shops on Broadway. From the water, you can watch people fishing or enjoying a picnic on a river viewing deck. Start paddling north up the Necanicum River and hear the sounds of people soon disappear, only to be replaced by the quiet serenity of the estuary and the gentle flapping of wings. The route beginning at Broadway Park is a bit longer, but it lets you enter a less-visited section of the estuary paddling along Neawanna Creek heading north.
Before you go, call one of Seaside’s surf shops to check conditions and view the tide tables, as Seaside waterways are tidally influenced. Ideally, you’ll want to kayak during slack tide — the 30 minutes or so before high tide — as some sections of Neawanna Creek can drain to only a few inches during low tide. Always wear a life preserver, and let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. And you’ll be sure to return to Seaside again and again.