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Journey to the Sea

The dream of a trail from Corvallis to the coast
Hikers traverse a portion of the C2C trail. Photo courtesy Gary Chapman.
Hikers traverse a portion of the C2C trail. Photo courtesy Gary Chapman.

Denise Nervik leans back in her chair and smiles as she recalls hiking Bald Hill in 1993, when she first moved to Corvallis.

“I was walking up in my boots and found that I was sinking into the muck up to the boot tops,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘Now I know what I’m going to do here in Corvallis! I’m going to work on trails.’”

Her prediction was right: With fellow volunteers, Nervik has worked for the past 14 years to organize and build the Corvallis to the Sea (C2C) hiking trail. 

The C2C trail started as a lofty dream more than 40 years ago, and for the past decade, a dedicated group of volunteers has led the charge to create the hiking trail, which starts at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Corvallis and ends at Ona Beach, near Newport.

Nervik, who is in her late 70s, has hiked the trail in its entirety, although it’s not yet open to the public. It’s a 65-mile trek over diverse terrain through the Oregon Coast Range along a lush forest hiking path, some of which Nervik helped build. 

Volunteers say the first 35 miles of the trail will open to the public this summer, barring no further obstacles — and the barriers have been high in number, from shifting government regulations to lengthy permit application processes.

Although she’s soon moving to Colorado to be with her family, Nervik currently serves as vice president of the C2C Partnership, a collaborative effort between a range of businesses, individuals and organizations with one goal: to make the C2C trail happen.

“The very worst day out in the woods is better than the best day home in an office,” says Rollie Bowers, treasurer of the C2C Partnership, and this saying seems to represent the dedication that he, Nervik and partnership president Gary Chapman exude as they talk about the trail in Chapman’s living room in Corvallis. 

The board members are all in their late 70s, and their enthusiasm is only tempered by worry over who will take the reins when they step down.

The history behind the trail, Chapman explains, is laden with false starts and sudden diversions. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management tried to establish a trail in the 1970s, and a few efforts in the ’90s made little headway.

Then, in 2003, members from Benton County Parks, the Sierra Club, the National Coast Trail Association and a handful of other interested citizens decided to “give it another try,” Chapman says.

“We needed a volunteer to head the group, and everybody but me stepped back,” he laughs. Just like that, the C2C Partnership was born.

Since then, the partnership has worked to attain landowner agreements allowing the path to cross private land. In 2011, the Siuslaw National Forest began environmental assessment, and in 2015, the Forest Service granted a special-use permit to the C2C Partnership, giving the volunteers permission to work on the portion of the trail from Corvallis to Big Elk Campground, near Eddyville.

Building trails isn’t always the easiest task, but the volunteers have years of experience digging dirt, scouting paths and clearing brush.

“The first thing is just trying to find topography that seems like it will accept a trail,” Chapman explains. “It’s amazing when you get up in the Coast Range how steep those hills are. Bottomlands tend to be extremely brushy and can make it tough to pass through. You have to find the lay of the land that will allow a 3-foot-wide trail.”

Trails don’t always turn out right on the first attempt. “You spend multiple hours trying to visualize the land,” Bowers says, “but then you backtrack and move it over 50 feet because you’ve found a better path or a better crossing of a stream.”

The team has put in 32,000 hours of volunteer time over the years, and board members say they’re excited to see all their hard work realized when the trail opens. For now, they still need to print brochures and maps, as well as put up trail signs to help guide hikers and bikers.

“We can now have an official opening of the trail, and we want to get word out that we need volunteers to come in and help us maintain it,” Bowers says. 

Chapman explains that the three board members were all retirement age when they started working on the C2C trail, and while they’ll continue their work, they hope a new generation of volunteers will step forward. 

Maintenance work includes removing trees that fall across the path, chopping weeds and going after invasive species like Scotch broom and “stinky bob.” The currently closed portions of the trail, which are marked with flags and kept clear of brush, also need maintenance to prevent them from being lost to overgrowth.

The work looms large, but Nervik says it’s always worth it.

“It’s really nice to walk these trails and have access to the woods,” Nervik says. “That has really kept us going. I think it’s wonderful that I belong to a group that has been so dedicated for so many years.”

While no official opening date is set, volunteers say they hope to see the trail open sometime this summer. To stay updated on the trail’s progress, or to help by donating or volunteering, visit c2ctrail.org.