Al LePage pauses along the Oregon Coast Trail.

Hiker wants Coast Trail protected

BROOKINGS — After hiking all 400 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail this summer, Al LePage walked away impressed that the wonders along the route are distinctly similar to what he saw and felt when he first hiked the trail 20 summers ago.

"The experience of the Coast Trail is pretty much intact," says LePage, 54, head of the Portland-based National Coast Trail Association. "On the whole, from the Columbia River to the California border, there hasn't been much of a change."

And that's all the more reason LePage is spearheading an effort at least to keep it that way — and perhaps expand on the idea — for the next generation of beach-hikers.

Building partnerships with conservancy groups and state parks officials and helping empower coastal residents to have a say how coastal development occurs are all possible elements of a coastwide conservation plan that could protect this legacy.

LePage believes the best plan would be a comprehensive one, borne from consensus among residents, landowners and other stakeholders all interested in ensuring the most special coastal places stay that way.

"We need to have a vision and we need to get it done," LePage says. "There's no time like the present, and coast land never gets cheaper.

"What good is the Oregon Coast Trail without the Oregon coast?" LePage says. "It's really that simple and it's really that complex."

LePage has yet to define a timetable or framework for his vision. But he laid the foundation this summer during his 30-day "Legacy Hike," during which he hosted presentations in seven coastal cities about his vision for better trails, education and conservation.

And along the hike, which ended Aug. 12 near the mouth of the Winchuck River, LePage spoke to countless coastal residents about their feelings and impressions of their communities. Many, LePage says, didn't particularly like all that they saw.

"I heard a lot of people talking about not necessarily liking where some of the homes are going," he says. "And these aren't tourists, or people from Portland. These are local residents."

Some possible ways to lessen the impact of development could be as simple as local residents talking with their county commissioners about passing an ordinance requiring new coastal-view developments to use earth-tone paints so the homes blend into the scenery instead of clashing with it, he says.

"It's more than just acquiring land from willing sellers," LePage says. "It's about conserving the view."

And what views ultimately make it into a conservation plan will depend on the stakeholders and landowners, not LePage and his organization.

"I'm not going to tell people what to do about their own backyard," LePage says. "I'm a man without a plan."

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