The Mill Ponds have a long and sordid history. Thankfully they were salvaged as part of a purchase (the Neawanna Coastal Wetlands Project) which included over 400 acres of land within the estuary, by the North Coast Land Conservancy (NCLC) beginning in 1989. Restoration of critical habitat elements at the site was conducted a few years later, and the site was eventually transferred to the City of Seaside’s ownership in 1999. The purchase and restoration was called “a cornerstone for the Seaside community education and tourism efforts” in a letter to US Fish and Wildlife Service detailing the completion of the acquisition and restoration.
Following the change in ownership, a task force of citizens representing various community organizations was formed in hopes of creating the “Neawanna Natural History Park” whose mission it was to “establish and maintain an accessible natural history park that provides public engagement through education, research/citizen science and passive recreation – balanced with maintaining ecological functions and restoration of native habitat.” Over time, this group has morphed and changed into a Parks Advisory Committee sub-committee eventually called the “Necanicum Estuary Natural History Park” (NENHP). In 2009 the City retained Jones & Jones to complete a NENHP “Vision Plan” that helped lead the way to completing the NENHP “Implementation Plan” in April 2013. This plan summarized all possible opportunities within the city for the park. In jest, the park concept was looked at more like a city within a park than a park within a city. The implementation plan strived to find a way to string the many “pearls” of parks or park-like lands onto one beautiful necklace – “a network of connections among people and their place”.
While the “North Gateway Park” was the original objective in the process, it was quickly determined that Gateway needed a greater estuary context and led to the park concept. In 2012 it was determined that a better place to start was at the Mill Ponds. Unfortunately, with no identified and solid leadership for this group (save for an ever-revolving door of seasonal interns the City provided), the group continues to form and reform as organizations experience turn-over and new life is temporarily breathed into the project. The most recent progression of this group presented Seaside City Council with a publicly vetted 4-phased implementation “plan”. Seaside City Council approved the plans, but the group lacks the funds and organizational capacity to implement any of the phases.
Enter the Necanicum Watershed Council: The NWC made the decision to “adopt” the Mill Ponds in 2010 and has been holding annual work parties to remove loads of transient-left garbage and invasive species. They have also been a consistently involved participant in the various planning processes and make the most sense out of all the partners to spearhead implementation. The Seaside Parks Advisory Committee agreed, and gave the Watershed Council approval to seek grants to implement phase 1 of the project: design and build a “reasonably accessible” path around the freshwater pond (including necessary raised boardwalks for seasonally swampy areas), install at least 3 bird “blinds” or observation spaces, and improve the off-road parking on Alder Mill Avenue.
The watershed council is currently seeking funding for NWC coordination/project management, and to hire personnel experienced in trail building and budgeting to implement this first phase of the project. The NWC and City of Seaside are inspired by a project in a nearby community (the Kilchis Point Reserve) and have already leaned on them considerable for suggestions. The team is hopeful they can design and budget the Mill Ponds trail project so that they can then raise the additional funds, material donations, and recruit volunteer capacity to see the trail and other Phase 1 components completed. Creating the trail design, and thus determining the budget, for project is the limiting factor to this trails success. Once this project is completed, other “pearls on the necklace of the City of Seaside” will string easily.
View a map of the trail here.
The City of Seaside is working hard to become more accessible. There is a new wheelchair accessible kayak launch on Neawanna Creek just north of this site.
The City also provides some of the only wheelchair beach access in the county. This project is dedicated to a watershed council member who walks around the pond by himself often, but dreams of sharing the beauty with his wheelchair-bound wife.
Additional project support documents and resources can be found below: