Marys Peak and Jackson-Frazier Wetlands

May 23, 2009

Viewing the Willamette Valley from 4,097 foot-high Marys Peak

From the top of Marys Peak, you can't see forever, but on a day as clear and sunny as May 23rd, we could see the Willamette Valley towns of Philomath and Corvallis below us and the distant Cascade peaks on the horizon. Then, by turning 90 degrees, we spotted sand dunes lining the Pacific Ocean shore down by Florence.

When the weather man assured us that western Oregon was going to bask under sunny skies for a few days, Karen and Barbara decided this was the time to visit Marys Peak. As the highest point in the Coast Range of Oregon, this mountain hosts alpine plants and birds that can't be found much below its summit.

The highway that winds around and up Marys Peak removes most of the huffing and puffing usually required to ascend a 4,000 ft-plus mountain. All we had to do was walk a bit more than half a mile up a gravel road from the parking lot. Even so, it took longer than you might think, because there was much to stop and admire, from views, to birds, to little alpine flowers keeping close to the ground out of the fierce winds that can rake the summit.

This day, no gales; just a cool and pleasant breeze to match the sunshine. As we walked up the road (closed to car traffic except for those maintaining the communications tower atop the summit) we moved through meadows ringed by a forest of tall Noble Fir trees (now the premium tree on the Christmas tree lots) and finally emerged onto the open, rocky summit known as the "rock garden." This rocky top of Marys Peak is home to more than 200 small alpine plants that have adapted to all that the elements throw at them throughout the year. The photo album will give you an idea of what we saw.

After descending from the mountain, we intended to head straight up Highway 99W from Corvallis but a directional sign just north of the city caught our eye: "Jackson-Frazier Wetlands." This sounded intriguing. Turning east from 99W we threaded our way through a pleasant residential area, wondering where a wetland was hiding! After a few blocks, we ran out of houses and found the parking lot and entrance. Two creeks, Jackson and Frazier, meet at this spot and create the wetland.

This 150-acre county park was established in 1992 to protect over 70 bird species and the 300 flowering plants that call this soggy area home. Later, a 2/3-mile boardwalk was constructed with volunteer labor and financial support of local Corvallis companies.

Our leisurely stroll along the boardwalk gave us access to an otherwise watery world. We saw some of the park's birds and plants but it would take repeated visits to see the entire succession of animal and plant life that uses the wetlands in both its wetter and drier seasons. Besides the true wetland, the boardwalk trail also went through woodland and prairie areas. The Jackson-Frazier Wetlands park turned out to be an excellent addition to our birding and botany outing and will be worth repeat visits. A few photos can be seen in this album.

The park is located at the north end of Corvallis, accessed via NE Conifer Road from either Highway 99W or Highway 20. Parking is off NE Lancaster Street or NE Canterbury Circle. Follow the path to the park entrance.

Read more about the wetlands in this excellent article by Aurae Beidler: "Jackson-Frazier Wetland Park Area"

Siuslaw National Forest has a brief guide to Marys Peak while the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club has an online publication "Marys Peak Plants."


Seen at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands: Pond, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Nootka Rose

Barbara Halliday,

May 27
, 2009

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Barbara and Karen Halliday, © 2009