A Longtime Local Looms Large: Meet Rockaway Beach's Big Cedar

By Ann Powers | Monday, May 20, 2019

Rockaway Beach may be a small seaside hamlet, but one of its more senior locals, as in 500 to 900 years old, is massive ... I mean more than ten stories tall (154 feet) and 49 feet around kind of massive. And beginning next month you can get up close and personal with this majestic giant, a mammoth Western Red Cedar estimated to be one of the largest in Oregon.

The Rockaway Beach Old Growth Cedar Wetlands Preserve is officially cutting the ribbon on its new boardwalk in a grand opening ceremony is set for 10 a.m. on June 15.  This boardwalk includes a viewing deck built around the colossal cedar. The 1,500-foot long boardwalk meanders through approximately 50 acres of ancient growth wetlands leading to what has come to be affectionately known as the “Big Cedar.” 

The Nature Conservancy gifted the wetlands to the City of Rockaway Beach nearly 20 years ago as a unique ecosystem to preserve. Arborists say the special land is a pure primeval forest. With its high quality and rare examples of trees exclusive to the area, it's a great way to travel back in time to experience first hand what the Earth looked like centuries ago. It's also the only type of preserve between Alaska and California created for the purpose of protecting a tree.

In addition to Western Red Cedar, the preserve features an upland and a lowland where some of the largest Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Red Alder trees also reside. The preserve is very quiet due to the dense vegetation and a favorite among bird lovers looking to spot woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches and thrushes.

Two streams run through the wetlands, the Saltair Creek and Heitmiller Creek. They converge just southwest of the viewing platform and flow underneath the boardwalk. A grant from the Department of Land Conservancy helped fund the construction of the deck around mammoth Western Red Cedar to protect the tree and its roots. 

A Portland-based group called Ascending the Giants (AG) spent about six hours officially measuring Big Cedar. AG is a volunteer group of tree enthusiasts, arborists and researchers with a passion for documenting trees worldwide.  

Through an ongoing series of expeditions, AG sets out to measure the largest of trees in each species. That information is then archived and shared to increase knowledge of their existence and ecological significance. AG awarded Big Cedar 756 points and lists it as the second largest Western Red Cedar the organization has on record. While measuring trees is its primary focus, AG also offers access for canopy research, film production companies and tree-climbing adventurers

To find the Rockaway Beach Old Growth Cedar Wetlands Preserve and meet Big Cedar, take Washington Street off Highway 101 heading away from the Pacific Ocean. Continue to Island Street, turn right and you’ll find the nature preserve’s trailhead. The boardwalk journey is about 1 mile long, and it winds through a boggy area of gargantuan trees and ends at the platform (complete with benches for optimal viewing comfort) surrounding the wondrous Western Red Cedar.

Preserve representatives ask visitors to please be respectful of the old growth forest, follow proper hiking etiquette and not leave trash or debris behind. Also make sure to bring your camera for some really memorable pics and selfies with Big Cedar!  

To get a birds-eye/drone view of the boardwalk and Big Cedar, check out this video courtesy of the Rockaway Beach Public Works Department. For more information call the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce at (503) 355-8108.

All photos courtesy of the Rockaway Beach Public Works Department

Don't forget to browse through our Daytime EventsNightlife and Community Events pages for even more big-time attractions on the Northern Oregon Coast! Let us know which ones you find and enjoy the most in our comments section below. 

About the Author Ann Powers
Ann Powers is a reporter and writer who has lived and worked on the Oregon Coast. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and currently working on her master's degree in multimedia journalism at the University of Oregon's Portland campus. Originally from Wisconsin, she now calls Oregon home, describing it as, "the Midwest of the Pacific Northwest," due to its dairy-state status, beautiful environment and friendly people.