Last Saturday at the Benton County Fairgrounds, the city of Corvallis celebrated the opening of the Corvallis to the Sea Trail (C2C), a 62-mile route that connects the Willamette Valley to the Pacific Ocean. On the fairgrounds stage, two men cut an orange ribbon in half to signify the grand opening of this nearly 50-year effort. One of the men, Gary Chapman, a bearded 84-year-old in jeans and hiking boots, says that moment, standing at the fairgrounds and looking out at the cheering crowd, felt like a form of graduation.
“It's like getting a diploma or a degree, you know. It's a sort of a defining moment of everything that has gone before," Chapman says.
Chapman is the president of the Corvallis to the Sea Trail Partnership (C2C Partnership for short), a non-profit that has worked on the trail's creation with individuals, businesses, and government organizations since 2003. But the effort itself dates to the early ‘70s. The C2C Partnership is only the most recent group to try to construct the Corvallis to the Sea Trail.
The trail is a network of public land, abandoned roads, gated corridors, and low-traffic roads that stretch from Corvallis to Ona Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast. From 1974 to the 1990s, government agencies, students from Oregon State University, and others had attempted to build the trail, but it wasn’t until C2C Partnership’s creation in 2003 that the Corvallis to the Sea Trail's completion seemed possible.
That’s not to say the C2C Partnership didn’t have its work cut out for it. The partnership dedicated hundreds of hours to scouting out the trail and looking for new locations missed decades ago. Also, the C2C Partnership had to negotiate routes with the owners of the public and private land the trail crossed. Once the route was finalized, volunteers dedicated themselves to several years of maintaining the path while they waited for approval to build the trail.
“Sometimes the trail was laid out as far back as 2009 or 2010, and every year you had to go out and cut back the annual growth of brush,” Chapman says. “Before we started building any trail, it was just maintaining the trail corridor.”
Permission to build the trail required negotiation with the Forest Service, the Siuslaw National Forest, and others who owned the land. Volunteers from around the Pacific Northwest (but mainly Corvallis) cut weeds, cleared brush, and carved the trail out of the hillside. Hundreds of hours later the eastern half of the trail was officially opened for use in 2017. In November 2018, the C2C Partnership received approval from the Forest Service to work on the western half of the trail, and by 2020 the trail was complete.
And finally, in 2021, after decades of trial and error, starts and stops, the C2C trail is now open to the public by foot or bike—a process of art, science, and patience.
“I have to say, you must have patience [because] you're going to have setbacks, you may be setback for a year or two every time. You need a plan B, an alternate that will still keep things alive and going,” Chapman says. “It’s like Michelangelo and some of his sculptures … it is inside that block of marble. The trail is inside that hillside, that mountain slope, it is just a matter of carving it out.”
The Corvallis side of the C2C Trail starts at Shawala Point Park, at the intersection of the Marys and Willamette Rivers, and ends at Ona Beach State Park. Be prepared—the trail is very difficult. Hikers should expect limited water along the hike and bring plenty of their own. Hustling hikers can possibly complete the trek in just three days, but C2C says the trail is best for a five-to-six-day trip at a more leisurely pace. You will also need a permit to hike, which can be obtained at this link.
The trail is also bikeable, and C2C says the bike trip can be completed in just two days. However, some sections of the trail are still waiting bicycle approval from the Forest Service. Check this link for a detailed explanation of the bicycle trail.