After what seemed like a never-ending spring quarantined at home, many people are eager to get outside and enjoy the summer weather. The Oregon Coast Quests Program provides a safe way for families, friends or individuals to spend time outdoors exploring and learning about the local history, plants and animals across the Oregon Coast.
Community members from different coastal towns can create “quests” which people go on to find clues that eventually lead to a hidden quest box, inside of which there are a notepad and pencil to sign and make comments. Participants can also stamp their quest book with a unique stamp contained in the box.
“This is a great activity that would be good for social distancing activities in the summer with family or grandchild or whoever you’re living with and staying safe with,” said Oregon Coast Quest coordinator Cait Goodwin.
Goodwin cautioned, however, that some quests can get very populated with visitors, so she encourages people to use their best judgment when traveling for a quest during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Use your common sense,” Goodwin said. “Don’t put yourself in an unsafe situation when you’re outdoors exploring. Just make sure to maintain social distancing.”
When Gov. Brown’s shelter-in-place orders were in full effect, many of the quests were closed due to recreation areas being shut down. However, most quests are currently open once again. There are 28 quests in the 2019/2020 edition of the Oregon Coast Quest book, where all quests can be found. This includes two in the Florence area — one in Old Town Florence and the other at Siltcoos Lagoon Trail.
The book, which has all of the directions for the quests, can be found at the Florence Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, Books ’N’ Bears or online at https://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/.
Goodwin equates the program to letterboxing, a tradition of clue-based treasure hunting that be-came widely popular in the 1970s in Dartmoor, England. In the mid-1990s, a nonprofit in Vermont created a program called Valley Quest based on the ideas of letterboxing. Since then, this outdoor activity has grown to more than 200 active quests in New Hampshire and Vermont today, according to Goodwin.
“And the idea was, it would be educational while showing off the treasure in these small communities up and down the Connecticut River Valley,” Goodwin said. “And helping students in particular appreciate their communities and what they have to offer. So that’s the spirit in which the quest name was attached to the activity.”
Goodwin gained experience with questing when she worked for a nature center in Massachusetts for Valley Quests.
“I moved to Oregon in 2006 and started working for Oregon Sea Grant and I was like ‘This place is crying out for quests.’ There’s so many cool things to explore outside in a self-guided fashion.”
She went on to create the Oregon Coast Quest Program in 2007 after securing seed funding from Oregon Sea Grant.
“I started the program by making just a few quests to get people familiar with the idea,” Goodwin said. “Then I started holding workshops to spread the word and get community members excited about the possibility of making their own quests in their area. Plus, I didn’t really want the book to sound like me the whole time. Now there’s lots of different perspectives.”
Each quest is created by local community members who can add their own flare to their route. Some of them are rhyming verses, some quests take only 45 minutes while others can be much longer, and some use clues along the trail or alphabetical letters to spell out the location of the hidden box.
“There’s lots of variety, which is fun,” Goodwin said. “And the quests are all located on publicly accessible lands so they’re either state or federal park, school property that is open to the public or city streets so that people can come and do them whenever it’s convenient for them.”
Goodwin received more funding from Oregon Sea Grant to do tsunami-focused quest education as well. There are currently five tsunami quests along the Oregon coast, including in Hammond, Astoria, Newport, Charleston and Bandon. These quests lead participants along a tsunami evacuation route while educating them about best practices if such an event does occur in that area.
“These are great because every tsunami quest on the coast is going to look a little different depending on where you are,” Goodwin said.
There are plans to create a tsunami quest in Florence, according to Goodwin, but she is not sure if it will be ready for the next edition of the book — which will have updates to old quests and even some new ones.
“I’m actually soliciting new quests now for the next quest book, which should come out in early 2021,” Goodwin said. “What I’d love to have is more areas of the coast represented in the book because it’s very heavy in certain areas and lighter in other areas.
“So, that mostly means inspiring quest builders in those areas of the coast that don’t have them already.”
There is only one Spanish language quest currently, but Goodwin also hopes that more quests can be created in Spanish or translated to serve the Latinx community.
If questers are not up for creating a completely new quest, but want to contribute to the program, they can become a box monitor.
“Box monitors are typically people who live near quests and want an excuse to get out every month and walk the trails to check on the clues and box,” Goodwin said. “Anybody can adopt a quest, which means just checking in on it periodically and reporting any problems.”
Regardless of whether you are a participant, quest builder or box monitor, the opportunity to participate in a program providing a safe, educational and enjoyable outdoor experience is there for everyone.
“I’m just excited about questing,” Goodwin said. “It’s just a small part of my job, but it’s one of my favorite parts because it explores the outdoors and gets me connected to my community.
“So, it’s hopefully contagious. In a good way, not the pandemic way!”