A Tale of Ruin and Renewal

Category: Exploring Nature Item

Back to Cascade Head and the Salmon River

Once choked by dikes and trampled by cattle, Cascade Head and the adjacent Salmon River estuary are marvels of how human beings can damage, but can also repair, an entire ecosystem.

Through the 1960s, the broad sea-facing meadows of the head were prime grazing land for beef cattle. In fact, if you wander the hiking trails which stretch across the promontory today, you can still catch glimpses of weathered fenceposts which once partitioned the land and kept the cattle corralled.

At the south base of the head is the slow flowing Salmon River and estuary. Again, look carefully and you will still see signs of human intrusion. Stands of dead trees, now little more than branchless gray posts, rise out of the marshland. Decades ago, dikes blocked the natural flow of the river, causing the waters to flood the adjoining land and drown these trees. The dikes were removed as part of the area’s restoration project, but the dead trees remain as silent reminders of what once was.

A Haven for Seals and Butterflies

What do Harbor Seals and Silverspot Butterflies have in common? At first glance, very little. But spend some time on Cascade Head and you’ll notice something amazing. Both of these species, despite their obvious differences, use the head as a nursery for their young.

The west slopes of the head are covered with expansive sea-facing meadows, also known as coastal prairie. During several months of the year, many of the nature trails are closed down to protect the butterfly during its reproductive cycle when its pupa, hidden among the low-lying meadow plants, begin their transformation into butterflies. The new insects flutter across the meadows, feeding on the Early Blue Violet and various flowering plants, pollinating as they go.

Far below, in the tranquil coves of the Salmon River, the Harbor Seals are pupping. With the rising tide, they float upriver to tend to their young, avoiding the obvious hazards of the coastal waters until the pups are old enough to go it alone. They poke their heads out of the water to watch the hikers along the riverbanks or the kayakers as they paddle quietly by.

For many species, both marine and terrestrial, the head and the river fulfill the same basic needs for food and shelter.

Related Information: Conservation Projects



Saving the Silverspot

Youth volunteers from all over Oregon come to the aid of the tiniest of creatures, the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly. See how these stewards help recreate missing habitat so the insect has a better shot at survival.