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Cascade Head Art on the Beach

To celebrate one of the world's rare biospheric reserves, scientists, artists, and the public will gather on the Oregon beach to talk, learn, and create images in the sand.


“Wonder,” August 2021, Art on the Beach, Lincoln City. Calligraphy by Kaj Wyn Berry; sand art conceived and executed by Frank Boyden. Photo courtesy Cascade Head Biosphere Collaborative.

Forty-six years ago, UNESCO identified the Cascade Head Biosphere Reserve as a place so extraordinary, it added it to a select list of other amazing locations around the world. This month, the Cascade Head Biosphere Collaborative celebrates the reserve with the second annual Art on the Beach weekend event, July 16-18.

“This was grounded in a place and love of a place,” said Duncan Berry, a volunteer and founding member of the Collaborative. “UNESCO, which is a branch of the United Nations, says there are 720-odd places around the world where there is this remarkable convergence of sensitive beautiful places with human habitation there. This isn’t a conservation place. This is how to have human interaction without destroying the place. We’re here to raise awareness that there is a place here that is internationally recognized that is not well known about.”

The Cascade Head reserve, in Tillamook County between Lincoln City and Newskowin on the Oregon coast and inland, now covers 102,100 acres originally designated in 1976 and recertified in 2017. It includes the “Salmon River and its estuary, a sandy littoral spit, densely forested uplands, a two-mile basalt headland covered in native coastal prairie and a marine reserve stretching west into the waters of the Pacific,” Berry said.

He describes the reserve designation as a blueprint for making a location a better place to live and work, not only for humans but all species. There are 17 sustainable development goals ranging from “zero hunger” to “climate action.” Among other locations making the UNESCO list are the Galapagos Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador, the Andean Belt in South America, and Finland’s Lapland.

Frank Boyden will be the lead artist on Monday, July 18, when artists and rakers create giant images in the sand of sea stars. Photo courtesy Cascade Head Biosphere Collaborative.

The July weekend events at Cascade Head include art, scientific exploration and smart conversation, including a free “Forests of the Sea” sand art event on the beach, 9:30 a.m.-noon Sunday, July 17, in front of Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City. Artists and rakers will create a 100-foot-long image depicting bull kelp and sea otter, which will stay until the tide comes in and washes it away. There’ll be space on the beach for visitors to come and make their own sand art, too. And from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, July 18, sand artists will create giant images of sea stars at the same site.

“One of the reasons people come to the coast is to be on the beach,” Berry said. “We look at the beach and we see this huge canvass that is perfect for communicating really complex life sciences in a very easy to understand way, a very emotional, intuitive way.  We are based on citizen scientists and artists. We do bio blitzes. We give them our phone and they go out and identify species. This is someone who has been going to the mall or beach and suddenly they get to be part of science. They say, ‘This is the best adventure.’ It is changing tourists.”

There will be a talk Sunday evening, July 17, at the Lincoln City Cultural Center by scientists and artists about the inner workings of kelp and sea otters. To register, contact olivia@cascadehead.org.

All of the events are free with the exception of a master class in printmaking scheduled for Sunday the 17th at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Berry will lead the Gyotaku technique of printing seaweeds and the creatures that inhabit the near shore including octopus, rockfish and others. San Francisco artist and seaweed expert Josie Iselin will teach cyanotype solar printmaking. The $60 fee covers all materials and everyone will take home four to six prints. You can register here.

“Sunday is super packed,” Berry said. “We’re explaining these things that really mean a lot, like, ‘What does kelp have to do with me?’  Well, 75 percent of every breath you’ll ever take comes from marine plants like kelp. Also, we’re losing our kelp beds really fast because 150 years ago we eradicated sea otters. They came back in B.C. and Alaska but not here. Kelp is disappearing because sea otters aren’t eating urchins. Sea urchins love eating kelp. Kelp just happens to be the necessary habitat for otter.”

The Collaborative began offering programs in 2019 and found itself with many sold-out events. Then came COVID-19.

“We had this large contract with NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to do field-based education in the estuary,” Berry said. “Then, no buses, no bus drivers, no kids. What we did was create these really beautiful videos for classroom and home use with youth correspondents as the hosts. They watched all these videos in class then showed up at the reserve. We sort of stumbled upon this really cool way of building videos that somebody can use as a primer and then they show up and can have the real experience. It’s really rich and deep.”

To watch the five episodes of “Secret Life of Salmon” on YouTube, go here.

To watch the nine episodes of “Raindrop to Sea,” go here.


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Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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