About eight years ago, the same day that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my family and I moved from the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle to Astoria — specifically to the Emerald Heights Apartments, past the Alderbrook neighborhood at the very eastern edge of the city. So many times was I asked why I moved to Astoria that I actually started a website with that domain (I’ve since taken the site down). I guess people are always curious why someone would move to a small town – their small town. Well, in the beginning, without much experience living here, I told folks things like “the cool Victorian houses” or “the beautiful view of the Columbia River Estuary” or “you can’t beat the view from the Astor Column” (they’ve since officially changed the name to the Astoria Column). There were also the reasons why we moved away from Seattle, like a crumbling school system, a property dispute with a neighbor, traffic and more.
The story goes that on the way to Cannon Beach for a summer vacation, we stopped in Astoria for gas, and I got out and took a quick look around. Wow! I was floored by the old Victorians (I love old architecture), the view, and the small town character. I made an off-hand remark to my wife that “we should move here,” and she dismissed it as a lark. The second time this same thing happened, the next summer, she started to think that maybe it was a decent idea. A couple years later, we were here.
As with all trips, one of the best things about the move to Astoria was the scenery on the way. I grew up in big cities — New York and Philadelphia — and after moving to Berkeley and living in the Bay Area for years, I moved to Seattle, where it seemed to me at the time like Astoria, a small city with lots of trees, not much traffic, and friendly people. But the trip there was amazing! I took myself and most of my belongings in my Subaru and drove up the California and Oregon coasts, and eventually up I-5 to the Emerald City. The redwoods, the beaches, the evergreens, the relatively empty roads (getting out of the Bay Area on weekends was an all-day affair). Well, the roads aren’t empty anymore, and the trees are losing ground to development adjacent to, and of, the highways.
The trip to Astoria from Seattle that late August day in 2005 ended with rare thunderstorms on Highway 30. I remember commenting about two things: one was the eclectic programming of KMUN (I’m now part of that community), and the other was the wonderful tree-lined, boulevard-like nature of the highway from Longview to Astoria. Little did I know that circumstances would conspire to strip the trees from the side of that road several years later.
We quickly found a house in the Uppertown neighborhood of Astoria, where we still live. After only two months at Emerald Heights, we moved a couple miles west, and in both places, tall conifers and big-leaf maples and other natives surrounded us. But severe storms are part of living near the coast, and the whopper was The Great Gale of 2007, when Astoria and the surrounding area lost thousands of trees in 3 days of 100+ mph winds and rain. There was a less severe storm the year before, which had started the carnage. And then there was the man-made additional destruction as dozens of very tall surviving trees were cut to assuage people’s fears that they would be victims of the next big storm.
Emerald Heights was decimated. I helped with a tree planting project there after the storm, but even if some of the trees we planted do mature, it will be decades before anything resembling a tree cover will be reestablished (if we even let it). I also helped to plant trees in several other areas around Astoria, and on hikes since then, I see that some of those trees are starting to grow.
But this is a logging town, and the propensity to log seems to be outweighing any tendency towards wanting to maintain the urban (or more correctly, rural) forest. Several property owners and the city have cleared large sections of what was forest for various reasons since then, and the recession seems to have increased that activity (at least some people are still in business). Though the woods near my home have lost a significant amount of trees, and neighbors have cut down many of their big trees in recent years, there is still a greenbelt that runs from the river up the hill to the east of us, ending in preserved land in the watershed that supplies Astoria with its water. This greenbelt continues east above Irving Avenue clear over to Clatsop Community College, and includes the Astoria Column area, parks and trails.
One of the wonderful parts of living where I do is this surrounding forest. I walk the trails in these areas often, and walk to work at the college along Irving Avenue, which has wonderful woods on either side punctuated by houses every now and then. Many of these wooded areas are the result of a huge landslide in the 1950s, after which the city decided to prohibit construction in them, at least up till now.
Just the other day, I found out that the city plans to sell off the whole thing — all the woods east of the developed area where I live, and most of the woods above Irving Avenue, which are the lone surviving trees from the hillside south of them from the Great Gale. And not to some conservancy for protection, but with the express purpose of building on them. It’s all part of a huge garage sale of city land that is supposed to put this land back on the tax rolls, and increase the availability of buildable land for future population increases. And yes, it’s state-mandated, and the city has been pursuing this for many years.
I’ve watched as whole swaths of wooded lands in Warrenton, the neighboring town, have been cut down and paved over for roads, malls, and housing developments, and my favorite back roads have gone from pleasant ways to get to the beach, the southern part of the county, and even to the animal shelter, to further stressors for me, so that I don’t use them anymore. Highway 30 and Highway 26, the two main routes to Portland and beyond, have become logging roads, as trees are removed from the shoulders so that the sheriff is sure that none will harm travelers. So I take the “back way” to Seattle now, traveling Highway 101 up the Washington coast. Certainly not devoid of logging, but rarely do I see cutting right on the road, or cars for that matter.
But now it’s coming right near my home, and I won’t just watch that happen. I’m hoping Upper Left Edge readers, friends, neighbors, officials, and everyone else will rally to prevent this sale from taking place, and instead insist that the city preserve and protect these lands as a buffer from storms, a place to recreate and relax, and as a backdrop for our city. Because I moved to Astoria in large part because the forest permeated the town, a place where deer and other wildlife can be found in our backyards because they are often adjacent to forests, a place where walking to work or walking the dog could find you in or by that forest (and that wildlife).
As I look out the window above my computer into my neighbor’s yard, I see native conifers that didn’t blow down during the gale or any of the other storms we’ve experienced since moving here. If I get up and look out my living room window, I can see the edge of the forest that would be sold for housing. And I only have to walk up the road to see the conifers above Irving Avenue that survived the Great Gale and realize that if they were to be cut down to supply more housing (with a view!), that we would lose the last trees on the top of the ridge in this area, since the others were mowed down by the winds those three days in December 2007.
And I’d realize that many of the reasons I moved to Astoria would no longer be there.