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Escape To The Oregon Coast

I have to admit I have a certain fondness for the rugged Oregon coast. Indeed it's where I go to relax, enjoy nature, kick back and just plain get away from it all. But can a place described as rugged also be accessible? Surprisingly, it can. In fact, my little chunk of heaven is also billed as one of the most accessible wildlife and ocean viewing venues on the Pacific Ocean. From wheelchair-accessible tidepools to a first rate aquarium, there's something for everybody on the rugged Oregon coast.

The crown jewel of Oregon's coastal accessibility is located in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (541-574-3100), just three miles north of Newport. This 100-acre coastal headland area was established by Congress in 1980. Several years later the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reclaimed the Yaquina Head rock quarry and converted it to a rocky intertidal area. Over the years this area, known as Quarry Cove, evolved naturally. Today Quarry Cove supports a wide variety of marine life, and includes Oregon's first wheelchair-accessible tidepools.

Wheelchair-users can park in the lower parking lot at Quarry Cove, and just roll down to the tidepools. The paved paths go right into the intertidal area. There are also raised tidepools which are just the right viewing height for wheelers. You'll find a wide variety of marine life in the intertidal area including sea urchins, starfish, anemones, mussels, barnacles, hermit crabs and sculpins. Remember to visit Quarry Cove during low tide, as the whole area is submerged at high tide. The best time to explore the tidepools is in the early morning. Check the local newspaper for a tide table.

In order to gain access to the lower Quarry Cove parking lot, wheelchair-users must first stop at the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center. This gated parking area is reserved for visitors who are disabled, and a ranger must open the gate. The interpretive center also has numerous exhibits which depict the history of the area.

Another must-see attraction is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse dates back to 1873, and has been called one of the most beautiful lighthouses in America. The lighthouse is only accessible by stairs, but you can catch a good view of it from the adjacent asphalt trail. There is also an accessible boardwalk and ocean viewing platform behind the lighthouse, where you can spot seals, puffins, mures, cormorants and (sometimes) whales in the surf.

For a look at marine life from a different perspective, visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium (541-867-3474, www.aquarium.org) located on Yaquina Bay in Newport. This 39-acre site showcases seabirds, marine mammals, fishes, invertebrates and plants native to the Oregon coast. The aquarium features accessible parking and restrooms, level pathways and barrier-free access to all exhibits.

Exhibits range from an aviary filled with puffins, to killer sharks in Passages of the Deep. Don't miss the twice daily "keeper-talks" which focus on fascinating details about the care and feeding of the resident animals. And for a look at some truly unique ocean gems, visit the Enchanted Seas rotating exhibit, where you'll find seahorses, pipefish, cuttlefish and other endangered species. Don't miss the sea dragons, as they are truly beautiful and a rare find in captivity.

Although most of Newport is unremarkable, the Nye Beach area is worth a visit. It's a typical funky beach town with shops and restaurants and tons of ambiance. Parking is located near 3rd Street and Coast Drive and there is a ramp down to the sandy beach area. Some of the old shops are not accessible, but it's a nice place to just sit and watch the ocean.

There are a number of accessible hotels in Newport. Access information about local lodging options is available on www.accessibilityoregoncoast.bigstep.com. Compiled by the Central Oregon Coast Association and Accessibility Advantage, this website rates the access of local properties, but doesn't give specific access details. It's a good starting point.

And if you enjoy the great outdoors, but cringe at the thought of pitching a tent, consider staying in an accessible yurt. These permanent domed structures are furnished and can sleep up to five people. and include plywood floors, framed doors, electricity and skylights. They rent for as little as $27 a night. The two closest accessible yurts to Newport are at Beachside (between Waldport and Yachats) and Beverly Beach (north of Newport). Advance reservations are a must. Call 800-452-5687 to reserve your yurt today.

For general tourism information on the Newport area visit the Greater Newport Area Chamber of Commerce website at www.newportchamber.org. The Accessibility Advantage website also contains some access information on visitor attractions on the Central Oregon coast.