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Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is located on the Oregon Coast, stretching approximately 40 miles (60 km) north from the Coos River in North Bend, to the Siuslaw River, in Florence. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is part of Siuslaw National Forest and is administered by the United States Forest Service. The dunes adjoin Honeyman State Park.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
LocationOregon, United States
Nearest cityNorth Bend, Oregon
Coordinates43°43′27″N 124°10′39″W / 43.72417°N 124.17750°W / 43.72417; -124.17750Coordinates: 43°43′27″N 124°10′39″W / 43.72417°N 124.17750°W / 43.72417; -124.17750
Area31,566 acres (127.74 km2)[1]
EstablishedMarch 23, 1972
Visitorsroughly 1,500,000 (in 2005)
Governing bodyUnited States Forest Service
WebsiteOregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The Oregon Dunes are a unique area of windswept sand that is the result of millions of years of wind and rain erosion on the Oregon Coast. These are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. Some dunes tower up to 500 feet (150 m) above sea level, providing numerous recreational opportunities including off-road vehicle use, hiking, photography, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, and camping. The Carter Dunes Trail and Oregon Dunes Day Use provide disabled access for forest visitors. Hiking is available throughout the The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area with the Oregon Dunes Loop Trail being the flagship trail which is accessible to all visitors.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is among the top United States Forest Service sites in the country for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. Until the first management plan was adopted in 1979, 91% of the site was available for use of off-highway vehicles. A revised 1994 Recreation Use Plan restricted the use of off-highway vehicles to only 31% of the total site, split between two large units or “Management Areas.” Today, visitors can use the North, Middle, and South OHV riding areas. [2]

The Day Use area is home to a visitor center which is the hub for interpretive information and quest services in the The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Throughout the Summer, talks and hikes guided by forest ranger staff is available along with "Junior Ranger" programs for children.

In 1963, Congressman Robert B. Duncan introduced a bill to establish a National Park at the Oregon Dunes. It passed the Senate Interior Committee unanimously. Senator Wayne Morse opposed provisions of the bill that would have increased environmental protections by restricting property uses.[3]

Author Frank Herbert was inspired (in part) to write the famous science fiction novel Dune based on his research about the dunes of this area.[4]


Additional historyEdit

Just south of Coos Bay there is a fifty-four-mile (87 km) stretch of the Oregon Dunes. This covers roughly 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) of land, which makes these dunes the largest area on the West Coast. The dunes are well over 100,000 years old, covering more than three miles (4.8 km) of the shore in distance, which makes up most of the dunes size in length. Congress set aside 32,186 acres (13,025 ha) of the total dune area as the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area in 1972. The dunes are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, while the rest of the area is private or county land. These dunes are one of the most popular off-highway-vehicle riding areas on all of the West Coast, and also offer spots for hikers and campers.

According to recent studies the youngest dunes are closest to the ocean; the newest dune began forming about 7,000 years ago. The dunes towards the east, inland, are much higher and have been around longer, dating back to around 20,000 years ago. The highest dunes were last active more than 100,000 years ago. Studies of individual sand grains show that the primary source of the Oregon Dunes were from the Umpqua River and the Siuslaw, as well as other small rivers.

The barrage lakes are the largest of the lakes on the land of the Oregon Dunes. They were formed when streams flowing west from the Coast Range foothills were dammed up by the rapidly developing dunes. [5]

Geology of the DunesEdit

The sand dunes were formed by wind, water, and time.

The dune formation is mainly dependent on the wind. In the summer the wind blows from north and northwest at 12-16 mph, mountain barriers near the coast, deflect the wind currents. This is what sculpts the sand into many different shapes. Then in the winter the winds are much more slower, except during storms when the winds can reach up to 100 mph, coming from the south and southwest. This causes large amounts of sand to move, causing a re-shape in the dunes structure. Water is also a main factor in dune formation. As the water currents flow in different directions depending on the season, this causes waves and tides to dredge sand from the ocean floor and then deposit it onto the beaches, where the wind then takes over. The water currents also can create marshy areas where standing water is several feet deep, where there’s an upward pressure causing the sand grains to become more saturated and float. This process is what results in quicksand. Quicksand will be found in the low, un-vegetated areas between the dunes. [6]

Plants and animalsEdit


With the importance of stable native plant species to the success of the dunes ecosystem, several native plants and plant groups have been identified as crucial and are part of active management and conservation efforts.  These plants include Red Fescue, Port Orford Cedar, Evergreen Huckleberry, Seashore Bluegrass, Shore Pine, Hairy Manzanita, Bearberry, Bog Blueberry, Tufted Hairgrass, Slough Sedge, Sitka Spruce, and Skunk Cabbage.[7]

Original native plant species have been drastically reduced over the years due to planting of European beachgrass, Scot’s broom and shore pine for sand stabilization that occurred from 1910 through 1979.[8]


Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Many species of birds live in the habitats available in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The South Jetty Area includes beach, marsh and coastal wetlands where the Tundra Swan, the Marsh Wren, the Canada Goose, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Red-tailed Hawk, the Sanderling, the Long-billed Curlew, the Dunlin, and the Least Sandpiper make their home. The Great Blue Heron, the American Bittern, the Green Heron, the Virginia Rail, the Cinnamon Teal, the Common Yellowthroat, the Common Merganser, the Belted Kingfisher, the Snowy Plover, the Bald Eagle, and the Osprey live along the Siticoos area by the Waxmyrtle trail. The Eel Creek area includes many shore pines, and provides shelter to the Pine Siskin, the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, the Swainson’s Thrush, the Wrentit, the Northern Flickers, the Red Crossbill, the Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Anna’s Hummingbird. The White-tailed Kite, the Northern Harrier, the Violet-green Swallow, the Downy Woodpecker, the Orange Crowned Warbler, the Yellow Warbler, the Black-throated Gray Warbler, the Townsend’s Warbler, the Hermit Warbler, the Great Horned Owl, and the Great Egret are located in the Horsefalls area.[9]

Western snowy plover chicks
Western snowy plover chicks

The Western Snowy Plover uses the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area as a nesting site. In 1993, the Western Snowy Plover was identified as a “threatened” species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service with only 68 birds in Oregon. Agencies created a multi-pronged approach to protect the plovers and revitalize their numbers. Techniques included restoring the plover habitat along the sand dunes by removing invasive beach grasses and maintaining the appropriate structure that were optimal for nest building,  protection of nesting sites through education, signage, beach restrictions during the nesting season from March 15 through September 15, and law enforcement when necessary. Removal of predators, and accurate population monitoring were other techniques employed. As of 2012, the number of Western Snowy Plovers has increased to 403 birds.[10]

Oregon Dunes Restoration CollaborativeEdit

The Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative is an organization working with numerous government entities to achieve goals surrounding preservation and restoration of the NRA. The group, formed in 2014, is engaged in efforts to combat the spread of invasive plant species which consume a large portion of the dunes. A dune is formed by sand interacting with a combination of wind and water. The invasive species seen today are a result of a twentieth century effort by land managers to stabilize the dunes by planting grasses.[8] The grasses were so successful that they are now invasive and prevent the natural dune-shaping interaction.

Today, the group in conjunction with the United States Forest Service is creating prioritization plans, locating funding sources, and raising public awareness of the project. The group encourages individuals to volunteer in engagement and stewardship initiatives around the dunes, employ sustainable recreation practices while visiting the dunes, and engage others about the current issues involving the dunes.[11]


  1. ^ "Land Areas of the National Forest System" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-22.
  2. ^ United States Forest Service. Off Highway Vehicle (OHV). Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oct. 2010,
  3. ^ "Solons pass Dunes bill". The Oregonian. November 22, 1963.
  4. ^ The Road to Dune (2005), p. 264, letter by Frank Herbert to his agent Lurton Blassingame outlining "They Stopped the Moving Sands."
  5. ^ "Oregon Dunes". Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  6. ^ USDA. "Geology of the Dunes".
  7. ^ Christy, John A., "Rare Plant Associations, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Sutton Recreation Area, and Heceta Sand Dunes ACEC/ONA" (2013). Institute for Natural Resources Publications. 7.
  8. ^ a b Stein, Marty (June 12, 2015). "Survey for sand dune endemic species in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area" (PDF). Interagency Special Status Species Program FY 2014 Inventory and Conservation Planning Project.
  9. ^ "Birds of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area". Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  10. ^ Todd, Laura; Elbert, Daniel (January 2014). "Western Snowy Plover in Oregon: Community Creates Recovery". Northwest Science. 88 (1): 58–60. doi:10.3955/046.088.0112. ISSN 0029-344X.
  11. ^ "Oregon Dunes Restoration Strategy" (PDF). Save Oregon Dunes. Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative. Retrieved 11 November 2018.

External linksEdit