It’s 7 AM on my day off, and somehow I am already out of bed and driving north on Highway 101. The radio is staticky on this part of the coast and all that’s coming in clear is the bombastic finale to some sort of romantic classical piece. I pull off the narrow, two-lane highway at the Tolovana Park exit in the city of Cannon Beach and keep heading north on Hemlock Street. The road curves extravagantly. As I brake to round a bend, the magnificent Haystack Rock suddenly comes into view.
The music on the radio now feels appropriate. Two hundred and forty feet tall, shaped like the pope’s hat and encircled with squawking seabirds, Haystack Rock is a commanding presence on this long sandy beach. The rock itself is nesting habitat for about a dozen species of seabirds, and the foot of the rock is composed of turquoise tide pools that provide a home for countless marine organisms. Thousands of people from all over the country and even the world flock to Haystack Rock every summer. And that’s why I’m here. As a volunteer interpreter, my job is to educate the hordes of summer crowds and also to protect the marine garden and wildlife sanctuary from them.
I’m better at the former than the latter, to be honest. Having spent many hours scrambling over tidepool rocks, picking up snails and starfish, and, yes, even poking sea anemones, it feels hypocritical to dissuade others from these activities. But the Haystack Rock tidepools are visited by tens of thousandsof people every summer, unlike the deserted tidepool spots I’ve visited in southern Oregon. Haystack Rock is visible for miles and easily accessed from the beach– it had no chance of being kept secret.
Luckily I don’t spend too much time in the role of ‘enforcer.’ In the last six weeks or so, I’ve also started writing the program’s weekly nature blog entries. After a couple of hours on the beach, I head to Cannon Beach City Hall, where the group is headquartered, and use staff notes to write up a summary of what the animals of the Rock have been up to during the past week. You can check out the blog here: http://hrapnatureblog.blogspot.com. Lately I’ve been focusing on one, relatively common animal—so far I’ve chosen the brown pelican, hermit crab, and aggregating anemone— and highlighting how surprisingly special and complex it is.
I’ve worked and volunteered at a number of environmental education programs over the years, but the Haystack Rock Awareness Program is perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever been involved with. Born from a grassroots effort to protect the tide pools and nesting habitat, this program puts interpreters—some paid, many volunteer— out on the beach at every low tide during the summer. The group operates out of a clever truck and trailer operation on the beach, where they store signs, binoculars, scopes, and pamphlets. Interpreters roam the tidepools pointing out animals, aiming scopes at birds’ nests, answering questions, and discouraging visitors from trampling the barnacles and anemones on the rocks.
TEP, where I am carrying out my fellowship, also began as part of a grass roots community effort. Recently, I’ve been helping TEP write a report for its 20th Anniversary celebration, which means I’ve been learning a lot about how the organization got started. It’s really encouraging to be involved with not one but two organizations that came into being via the sheer willpower of concerned citizens. Encouraging enough to get me out of bed before 7 AM on a day I’m not working (the coffee and bagels at the Sleepy Monk Café help too.)
More information about the Haystack Rock Awareness Program can be found here:http://www.ci.cannon-beach.or.us/~Natural/HRAP/hrap-program.html