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Field Experiences: Uncovering Bayocean

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Approximate GPS Coordinates to the Bayocean town site: 45.528059, -123.9519792

Not every third grader has the chance to spend a day searching for a lost city on the Oregon coast. But for students in Carrie Lee’s class at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, this foray into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and inquiry-based learning is part of a larger multi-year project to uncover one of the state’s least known historical sites.

“I knew about Bayocean, I knew that this was here and I thought, gosh, nobody in the community really knows about this place,” Carrie told the Network when we visited her class at work in May 2015. “We need to foster that love of what used to be here. People come out for the beach but they have no idea there was this huge city here.”

The story of Bayocean is one of big dreams and poor planning. The sandy spit on which the town was located sat between the Pacific Ocean and the Tillamook Bay. Although the location offered extraordinary views and plenty of beachfront property, coastal weather, grinding tides and the persistent forces of natural erosion doomed the community from its first days. After only five decades, Bayocean was all but abandoned and more and more of its infrastructure collapsed into the waves. Once the last resident had left, the Army Corps of Engineers demolished the remaining buildings to keep them from becoming hazards to visitors and then covered the streets and foundations with ten feet (3 meters) of sand dredged from the bay. As nature reclaimed the site, the memory of Bayocean slipped into history. Today, visitors to the Bayocean Peninsula Park http://www.co.tillamook.or.us/gov/Parks/RecreationArea.htm would be hard pressed to find any signs that a community of hundreds of people once existed on the narrow strip of sand.

But Carrie and her students hope to change all that.

“I’m in the Oregon Coast STEM Center program and the previous year I did a program on ocean acidification so I already had a great love for the ocean,” she explained. “When I was thinking about a new project for my kids, I immediately thought about doing something at Bayocean. I thought, you know, third graders can do that… and they really took off with it!”

Beginning in 2014, Carrie and her colleague Clair Thomas, Tillamook High School’s Natural Resources Coordinator, organized her students to research, locate and mark the major sites of the lost city. Working with historical documents obtained from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, the students were trained on the use of compasses and the global positioning system (GPS) to chart where buildings once stood, even though all signs of foundations were destroyed or hidden under deep sand and thick vegetation.

“We also had to determine how the shoreline of the spit had changed,” said Carrie. “After nearly one hundred years, the ocean had dramatically reshaped the land. For example, we found that Bayocean’s pier was now located in the middle of the land because so much sand had been deposited on the east side of the spit since the 1920s and 30s.”

Over the last few years, Carrie’s students have helped establish trails, erect historical markers and research the people and places of Bayocean. In May 2016, the team hopes to begin placing educational kiosks at all the major sites, including the luxury hotel, the natatorium and the general store. The students were responsible for researching and writing the interpretive materials for the kiosks. To help publicize their work, they also set up a Facebook group called Remembering Bayocean Oregon https://www.facebook.com/groups/RememberBayocean/

These exercises are not only teaching Carrie’s students about their local history (and sometimes their own family history), but also about the natural forces which are constantly reshaping the Oregon coast. As climate change impacts the area, there are also lessons to be learned from the past about where and how to live in coastal areas to minimize property damage and lessen impacts on wild species.

“Understanding Bayocean is about learning from our mistakes, it’s about understanding and respecting nature,” said Carrie. “This isn’t just a lesson about the past. It’s a lesson for the future and how we need to respect and cherish our natural places.”

Related Features: Landmark Places: The Town Swallowed by the Sea. | Youth Activities: Life in Ruins | Sharing Your Field Experiences

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