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Circle Creek: A naturalist finds her career path

All of my important encounters have been Circle Creek encounters.

It began with meeting Neal Maine in 2004. I had moved to the North Coast to work for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife doing salmon surveys. I was curious about whether salmon spawned in Cannon Beach’s Ecola Creek, and when I asked, the answer I kept getting was, “You need to meet Neal Maine.” It took some months to connect with him; as the part-time director of North Coast Land Conservancy, Neal was in the midst of acquiring Circle Creek. Eventually we connected, and Neal suggested we meet out at Circle Creek. What I thought would be a brief conversation turned into a two-hour walk.

We strolled into the pasture where cows were still grazing. He showed me the trees that volunteers had already planted above the riverbank. He showed me some beaver dams, and we saw little fish in the creeks. He explained how private land conservation works. He talked about his own background as a high school biology teacher-turned-conservationist. I talked about my background: I had studied biology in college, thinking that I would become a naturalist, not understanding that that naturalist wasn’t really a contemporary career path. We walked into the two-story house that was becoming NCLC’s office. On the spot, Neal offered me a job, creating a management plan for Circle Creek.

It turned out that naturalist would, in fact, be my career path.

Ultimately I became NCLC’s first stewardship director, and then its second executive director, after Neal retired in 2008. I had just given birth to my second child when, in 2012, that two-story house-turned-office burned to the ground, and I got to witness NCLC rising from the embers, stronger than ever. In 2016 NCLC acquired Boneyard Ridge, which together with Circle Creek and adjacent state park land created an epic 3,500-acre conservation corridor on Tillamook Head.

Circle Creek was where we cut our teeth as a land conservancy, learning how to acquire and then steward large, precious coastal properties. The project we’re currently focused on, conserving the Rainforest Reserve, is nearly ten times the size of Circle Creek. Without Circle Creek, we’d wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m so grateful to Neal and those board members who had the vision and courage to take the leap back in 2004. Thanks to them, we can look forward to many more Circle Creek encounters in the years to come.

NCLC Executive Director Katie Voelke



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