Tag Archives: northwest

Julie Jones shares an article about the debate raging around the land near their home. The Oregon Resources Company plans to begin mining in January within miles of the Joneses and the other 160 households in their area. The community has spent the last three and a half years fighting the corporation for fear of groundwater pollution, environmental damage, and other degradations to the pristine Bandon dunes in their area.

The Heavy Weight of Chromium

“I just think this can be done better,” says Jack Jones as he looks over a stream trickling across smooth pebbles into the Pacific Ocean, backlit with the blazing sun in the final hours of daylight.

Squawking seagulls glide over the rumbling surf. Jones walks farther down the stream toward the ocean, pointing out black grains that top the ridges formed by swirling eddies. The grains have been carried from the ancient dunes that extend south down the coast. Topped with a forest of Douglas fir, the dunes are a natural habitat rich with wildlife and vegetation. Elk herds migrate through dune residents’ backyards. Streams extend far into gullies to the beds where endangered Coho salmon breed.

Jones has lived in the Bandon Dunes for twenty-five years enjoying the natural peace, but soon the rumble of industry will fill the salty air.

Jones serves as Bandon Woodlands Community Association president, a group formed to represent the 160 individuals who live on the land between Coos Bay and Bandon. The locals reminisce about hiking through the woods looking for mushrooms and listening to the gobbles of wild turkeys. Now, their activities have turned towards preserving the quiet environment. During the past four years, the Australian-owned Oregon Resources Corporation has been applying for permits to mine the dunes.

The black grains found on the beach contain chromite, plentiful beneath the Bandon Dunes, and shaped perfectly for industrial casts. With only one permit left to obtain, Oregon Resources Corporation is about to start the first mine operations and become the only source of chromite in North America. While nationally significant, the company remains much more important to the county and its citizens; the chromite is an economic hope.

The Bandon Dunes are part of Coos County, a county experiencing a 13 percent unemployment rate created largely by the collapse of the once-powerful timber industry. In the last year, the county has had to whittle away public works to balance a dwindling budget that reflects a region with few job opportunities.

Other sectors have suffered with the timber industry.

The port authority no longer handles a few hundred ships laden with logs that used the deep-water port in the nineties. Rusted tracks run along the water’s edge of Coos Bay, parallel pieces of steel nearly abandoned until the port authority moved to purchase the rail line.

Jobs are in demand in the coastal region, but there is nothing to support the skilled labor once hosted by the lumber and fishing industries.

Oregon Resource Corporation’s plan to operate a mine and a processing plant provides job growth to a declining economy. Huge capital investments, living wages, and seventy-five jobs have enticed the county commissioners into leasing county lands for mineral extraction. State representative Peter Defazio presented a $13.2 million grant to the International Port of Coos Bay to revitalize the rail lines that are essential to ORC’s shipments to the Midwest.

Industrial energy has started to awaken the sleepy coastal town.

Though a gleaming opportunity for county citizens, the locals who live near the proposed mine sites have spent the last three years placing obstacles in ORC’s permitting process. Fears of noise, dust, and groundwater pollution have driven them to critically question every detail of ORC’s mining plan. The greatest concern is the possibility that a toxic heavy metal called hexavalent chromium, the same material that was brought to the American consciousness by Erin Brockovich, could be introduced into their local wells, possibly introducing carcinogens into the local water supply.

In January, ORC will begin shipping the first sands from the Bandon Dunes to Coos Bay and a new economic era for Coos County will begin; but will it be the end for the people who live there?

Flux magazine plans to cover this issue as it progresses in 2011. While pushing the frontiers with new media, our writers and photographers remain committed to strong journalistic standards. As ORC’s processing plant comes on line, Flux will launch a detailed feature presenting the story with video, audio and text. Come back in the new year to experience this controversial topic explored through creative means only Flux can deliver.

Julie Jones shares an article about the debate raging around the land near their home. The Oregon Resources Company plans to begin mining in January within miles of the Joneses and the other 160 households in their area. The community has spent the last three and a half years fighting the corporation for fear of groundwater pollution, environmental damage, and other degradations to the pristine Bandon dunes in their area.

Julie Jones shares an article about the debate raging around the land near their home. The Oregon Resources Company plans to begin mining in January within miles of the Joneses and the other 160 households in their area.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Jill Kimball, along with two Flux cohorts, hoped to embark on an adventure that would make her hiker parents proud. But soon after she saw the three inches of mud caked around her once-cute rain boots, she realized four years in the Northwest doth not an outdoor enthusiast make.

The mud made sickening squelching sounds under our feet as we made our way around branches and over logs, heading down what we hoped was a real pathway. I held a Global Positioning System in one hand and brushed bushes to the side with my other to clear the way, hearing occasional small yelps behind me as my Flux cohorts Ashlyn Gehrett and Melanie Johnson sank down into the quicksand-like earth.

“Do they make snowshoes for mud?” I asked. I only got more yelps in response.

We—Gehrett, Johnson and I—weren’t exactly a crack team. We liked city life, cable television and shopping. We couldn’t remember how to identify poison ivy. (Is it three leaves or three branches?) None of us owned a pair of hiking boots—in fact, I, ever the sartorialist, was wearing flower-patterned rain boots. And worst of all, none of us seemed to be able to make much sense of this elusive GPS, the only tool that would help us find what we were looking for.

It was our first foray into the world of geocaching along the Oregon coast, and it had gotten off to a rocky start. Sure, we’d found our first hidden treasure on a coastal cliff just off Route 101 within just a few minutes. But on our second try, we weren’t so lucky. After a steep downhill walk, we found ourselves at a vacant parking lot, staring at a forest and an old bridge and wondering where to go next.

“It says ‘old road,’” Gehrett told us, looking at the GPS and reading off the clues that would help us find the hidden cache. We saw car tracks underneath the bridge and followed them to the banks of a river, our excitement building as we drew closer to the cache’s GPS coordinates; we were nearly 200 feet away when Gehrett stopped dead and stared at the GPS screen in disbelief.

“It’s pointing over there,” Gehrett said, pointing clear across the wide, shallow river, where a steep cliff rose up.

Johnson suggested I wade through the water in my rain boots. I contemplated telling her to go to hell. Before I got my chance, though, Gehrett suggested we try walking across an old bridge on the other side of the vacant parking lot.

That’s when we encountered the squelching mud, and that’s when we almost gave up. The GPS told us we were still 200 feet away when we reached a muddy clearing with no visible pathways in the direction we were instructed to go. The only sign of life was an old, abandoned camping tent caked in mud. I wondered briefly what crazy person would try to camp on the Oregon coast in February, then I thought how we may have been equally crazy to think wandering down a clearly unused road would lead us to the site of a hidden geocache.

Then, somewhere behind me, I heard Gehrett’s voice yell, “I think I’m on to something!”

I spun around and saw her walking down a narrow, steep path I hadn’t seen before. She fought through a thick of ferns until she was just on the cliff’s edge by the riverbank, then called out, “I found it!”

Johnson and I slipped down the path and through the ferns in excitement, and there we found the cache: a narrow, plastic camouflaged tube hanging on the branch of an unsuspecting tree. Inside it we found several colorful erasers, a note from the cache owner and a traveling plastic keychain in the shape of an Adirondack chair, which we vowed to transfer to another geocache location as per the instructions.

Minutes later, geocache back in place and deck chair memento in hand, we headed back up the steep hill and the good humor faded.

“Why did I agree to do this again?” Gehrett asked as we all breathed heavily.

It took a trip down the rabbit hole—literally and without hallucinogens—to remember why.

The last geocache we found that day took us to a seemingly uninteresting turnout on Route 101, where we hopped over the highway divider and scrambled down a narrow, steep hole, clinging to branches for dear life. Where was the shrinking potion labeled “drink me” when we needed it?

At the end of the tunnel we found a less absurd, but no less beautiful, version of Wonderland. Before us was a deserted beach, where waves broke against huge rocks and where the soft sand formed smooth dunes. And there on the beach, underneath some brush and a strategically-placed bunch of rocks, we found our last cache.

For another take on geocaching, Saul Hubbard has also written a piece about it: Geocaching Ten Years On.

Geocaching Ten Years On

[caps]T[/caps]he year was 2005 and Steve Card’s wife had just heard about an exciting new hobby that she wanted the family to try: geocaching. She thought that geocaching, a treasure-hunting game played with a Global Positioning System, would be a fun way to get everyone outdoors.

Card remembers thinking, “That sounds like a waste of gas to me.”

Despite Card’s misgivings about the idea, he dutifully went out with his two sons and bought his wife an $80 GPS from Fred Meyer for Mother’s Day that year. “We took it out and found some geocaches and I fell in love with it. That was about the last time she touched the GPS,” he says with a chuckle.

At the time, geocaching was still a relatively new creation, the by-product of the Clinton administration’s decision to allow civilian GPS users to receive unscrambled signal. Two days after the signal became clear – on May 3, 2000 – Dave Ulmer hid a black plastic bucket containing a logbook, some videos and software, a slingshot, $4, and other items in a wooded area in Beavercreek, Oregon. He posted the global positioning coordinates of the bucket online, inviting others to find it.

Geocaching was born.

Today, as geocaching approaches its tenth birthday, its popularity is at an all-time high. There are almost one million active hidden containers or geocaches worldwide. The location of each geocache (or just ‘cache’ in most participants’ slang) is tracked using its global positioning coordinates on the website that is at the center of it all, the all-powerful geocaching.com.

The “cache” itself is a container of varying size that usually contains a few trinkets and the all-important logbook. They can be hidden almost anywhere in the outdoors: under a park bench, near a landmark, or underwater, just not on private property or anywhere dangerous. Every time geocachers find one, they write their special geocaching.com nickname or “handle” in the cache’s logbook and add one to their total geocache tally.

On a windy overcast February morning, Card (geocaching handle: coastcards) hops out of a gray SUV, followed by Bob and Karen Bennett (yachatswalker and birkiehiker), Ivan Mangum (bostonmangum) and Mangum’s two young children. They have just driven ten miles down the Oregon coast from Coos Bay after a much longer drive to get to Coos Bay earlier this morning. Everyone looks happy to be out of the car.

Ever since he got hooked on geocaching in a way his family couldn’t keep up with, Card has found this group of kindred spirits, whom he met at a geocaching meet and greet event in Newport, to share his hobby with. They go out together every two months or so during the year, and about once a month in the summer.

“Some geocaching is more casual and some is more about building your numbers. This group is a bit like that,” says Card. “We’re out to go geocaching. I mean we enjoy it a little bit while we’re there, but we won’t go to an interpretative center or something like that, we’ll go to the next geocache.”

The group walks briskly down a small concrete path that takes them right to the land’s edge with both Card and Mangum closely monitoring the screens of their $200 handheld GPS systems. A hundred feet below them huge waves crash into the dark cliffs and seals’ heads bob in and out of the water. From this spot, you can see for miles down the coast in either direction.

But the small metallic plaque that adorns this vantage point is the reason for their visit. Each member of the group is holding a foldout pamphlet with a series of questions. Each question is attached to a series of GPS coordinates. The first set of coordinates has led them here.

“What is the name of the island the seals hang out on?” Karen Bennett says, reading the question aloud.

“Shell Island,” says one of the children, reading off the plaque.

They all jot down answer, and now only have twenty more locations to visit in order to complete the Adventure Coast Challenge, a geocaching style challenge linked to today’s Coos Bay Geocaching ‘Meet and Eat’ event.

Challenges like this one are just one of numerous spin-offs or offshoots of traditional geocaching. There’s “Virtual Geocaching”, with no physical cache at all but requires you to answer a question about or take a picture of the location, “Earth Caching”, which includes a task that teaches the cacher about the earth science of the location, and “Night Caching”, with caches that can only be found at night using reflectors or flashlights, among others.

Another facet of geocaching is geocoins, small coins with both generic and customizable designs that are also tracked online. According to Ivan, “about five percent of geocaches contain geocoins” which makes every find that much more exciting. The idea is for geocachers to move the coins around from cache to cache. “I’ve got a couple in Czechoslovakia right now,” says Karen Bennett with obvious excitement in her voice. “A German couple were over here visiting a few years ago, and they found a couple of my coins and took them back to Europe with them.” Bennett has about 200 active geocoins in circulation, and she closely monitors their travels online. “Us girls, we like shiny things. These and jewelry,” she says laughing.

The Adventure Coast Challenge takes the group all over the countryside surrounding Coos Bay. They visit a monument in a small coastal town dedicated to local fishermen lost at sea, a wine-tasting business, a statue of a fireman outside a private home and, much to their surprise, Steve Prefontaine’s grave.

“One of the really cool things about geocaching is if you’re traveling to an area you have never been to before and you go looking for geocaches, you discover little trails, little scenic vistas in towns that you’d never see if you were just traveling through,”Card says. “But because someone put a geocache there, you find all these cool surprise spots.”

The group completes most of the challenge before heading back to Coos Bay for the Meet-and-Eat held at the local Red Lion Inn. In a private banquet room, two hundred geocachers crowd around thirty tables.

There’s a buffet, a raffle, and a trade table covered in geocaching-related items: flashlights, new empty caches, camouflage spray paint, logbooks, batteries, reflective trail tacks, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching. Signal the Frog, geocaching’s official mascot, who distinguishes himself by the GPS antenna sticking out of his head, even makes an appearance.

The geocachers are dressed casually, and all sport a nametag with their geocaching handle, the name others will most likely know them by.

“The first year we did this, thirty-five people showed up. This is our fourth year and we’ve got 200,” says Steve Wilcox, the organizer. “It’s just a social event. You see all these names online, and you have these meets to put the face with the name; a lot of these people have never met before.”

These types of meet-and-greet are becoming more and more common throughout Oregon, and insure that the geocaching community, which refers to non-geocachers as “muggles”, remains extremely tight-knit.

“It’s funny, I notice people geocaching all the time. I’ll see them near one of my caches or someplace else and I’ll watch them” says Card. “Sometimes they don’t know that I know what they’re doing, so they’ll try to hide it,” he laughs. “Even if you have no idea who the person is, it instantly makes you feel closer to them. It’s like you have some kind of silent bond.”

For another take on Geocaching, Jill Kimball and Melanie Johnson have put together a piece of their own: Down the Rabbit Hole.