Keeping the doors open

Volunteers staff Cape Perpetua during multi-week government shutdown

Jan. 5, 2019 — The partial shutdown of the U.S. Federal Government is entering its third week and the effects of the shutdown on consumers and travelers will become more widespread as the funding impasse continues.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is one of the departments affected by the shutdown and many national parks are either not operating or limiting services and park access.

This is not the case at one of Oregon’s most visited tourist destinations, The Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve. The reserve and surrounding forest remain open primarily because of the dedicated volunteers that staff the busy visitors center at the site. The popular location includes a marine reserve, two Marine Protected Areas, a Seabird Protection Area, a campground and an extensive hiking trail system.

The Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve is overseen by the State of Oregon, but the adjoining forest and campground is staffed by employees of the USDA, which has not received funding as of Friday at press time. The site encompasses 2,700 acres of coastal habitat and the location was identified by early explorer Captain James Cook in 1778, at which time he named it after Saint Perpetua.

Michele Holman Jones, a district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, points to the dedication and commitment of the volunteers at Cape Perpetua as the reason the USDA has been able to keep the visitor center open, unlike other parks in the state.

 “The government shutdown is based on appropriated funding. We are running Cape Perpetua, and other campgrounds and day use sites, off recreation fee dollars, which are not appropriated by Congress,” Jones said. “We have a small amount of staff that runs Cape Perpetua because we are extremely fortunate to have a group of volunteers that allow us to keep the doors open full time, year-round.”

The Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve is Oregon’s largest marine reserve and is located 23 miles north of Florence. It is also one of the premier locations on the West Coast for whale watching. This is especially true during the early weeks of each year as more than 20,000 gray whales migrate south. The whales are moving to warmer Mexican waters to mate and give birth, as part of the longest migration route of any mammal on earth.

The large main room of the visitor center has several flora and fauna exhibits to help hikers and beach walkers identify the native plants, birds and sea creatures that might be seen on one of the trails leading from the center, or at the tidepools on the beaches below.

There are also banks of windows inside the center that have viewing stations with binoculars or long-range sighting devices available for ocean viewing.

This is the area that most visitors will gravitate towards after entering the visitor center, and this where volunteers Lila Chambers and Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessy greet visitors and answer questions from the dozens of inquisitive tourists they talk with daily.

“Cape Perpetua Scenic area is open right now!” Chambers said enthusiastically. “It has 12 trails, identified on the brochure, that are open at this time. The trails go from easy to moderately challenging, and they all start right here at the visitor center.”

Chambers and O’Shaughnessy are just two of the dozen or so individuals who contribute to the educational aspect of a trip to the reserve by providing information and explaining interesting seasonal wildlife activities like this month’s gray whale migration.

“We have had a number of whale sightings this week, and there seem to be a lot of folks stopping in to watch the whale migration, which should continue for the next week or two,” Chambers said.

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Cape Perpetua Campground is closed at this time.


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