BROOKINGS — The sights, sounds and sensations for hikers traversing the Oregon Coast Trail can change as quickly as the coast's proverbial weather.
At some points it's sand underfoot, the chattering of sandpipers and a misty breeze from waves breaking on an open coast beach owned by the public and not fenced off by some rich guy.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department will take written comments through Friday, Sept. 10, on the final draft of its so-called Connection Strategy to fill gaps in the Oregon Coast Trail.
The plan, which includes possible short-term and long-term fixes to the 33 gaps in the 382-mile trail, is available online at http://egov.oregon.gov/OPRD/PLANS/index.shtml.
Written comments on the draft plan may also be sent state to Recreational Trails coordinator Rocky Houston at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to State Recreation Trails Coordinator, 725 Summer St. NE, Salem OR 97301.
A quick turn later and it's all asphalt, diesel exhaust and that unsettling wind from a horn-blaring log truck speeding down Highway 101 just a few feet away.
"You're out there on the beach, and all of a sudden you're on the highway and you think, 'Oooh, too bad,' " says Al LePage, a Portland hiker who has twice conquered the trail. "Highway 101, where there's no shoulders and a lot of traffic? That can be a bit too much."
The exhaust tends to blow east in the coastal winds, so it's best to hug the highway's western shoulder, LePage says.
These highway passes are the most egregious of the 33 gaps still remaining to connect the entire 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border, as originally envisioned by Samuel Dicken more than 60 years ago.
Now the Oregon State Parks Department is putting the final touches on its so-called "Connection Strategy," which identifies all of the gaps and provides short- and long-term solutions to fill them with facilities more commonly experienced by hikers and not hitchhikers.
The trail relies primarily on open beaches that Gov. Oswald West designated for public use in 1914. Between beaches and around points, the trail follows a mish-mash of old logging roads and trails, easements through private lands and, at times, the concrete and asphalt roadways of coastal towns and Highway 101.
The trail was deemed "hikable" in 1988, yet there remains more than 50 miles of what parks officials consider to be critical gaps in pathway continuity.
The department defines critical gaps as places where hikers must use roads and other transportation corridors not designed with pedestrians in mind.
The gaps could be caused by anything from river mouths to rock bluffs to development.
The draft plan contains detailed maps of these trail breaks — the first step in connecting them.
"This produces a visual identifier for those gaps and ... should help start a dialogue with local communities to take on that ownership needed to make it happen," says Rocky Houston, state parks' recreational trails coordinator in Salem.
Many of the short-term solutions are as simple as building a trail-like path through Highway 101's right of way that gets hikers off the asphalt. Other possible solutions would tap into old logging roads or other trails, and some options would require easements for connecting trails on private lands.
For long-term changes, there even are suggestions of finding private liveries to offer short ferry rides across the mouth of Coos Bay at Charleston, Winchester Bay and Tillamook Bay.
The draft strategy is based on a similar one drawn up five years ago by LePage, who heads the Portland-based West Coast Trails Association.
The goal is to have the trail fully connected by 2021, the 50th anniversary of the start of its construction.
The draft is big on vision — buoyed by specific solutions to the gaps — but short on funding sources and specific plans to achieve those goals.
But that's by design.
"A lot of people think trail (building) is about going out with a shovel," LePage says. "But building trails is about building relationships with people.
"A lot of people think trails happen because of money," he says. "Well, they don't."
The idea is to get communities to adopt not only pieces of their region's trail, but to find ways to span these gaps, LePage says.
"It's not fundraising," he says. "It's resource-raising. When it all comes together, you can do something important for trails."
The Oregon Coast Trail doesn't have the aura of the Pacific Crest Trail, which rides the crest of the Cascades and other mountains from Mexico through Oregon to Canada.
It doesn't even have the sexy hiking guides other systems have.
But Houston believes it has its own uniqueness to sell.
State parks officials have broken the trail down into a dozen segments that all can be hiked in a few days in continuum or by piecemeal.
Instead of the backwoods, rustic experience of the PCT, the Oregon Coast Trail could offer adventures where hikers spend one night in a state parks' yurt, the next in a bed-and-breakfast and the third in a nice hotel overlooking the beach.
But first, those Highway 101 treks will have to be replaced by something more trail-like.
And if these communities build it, perhaps those pocket guides and those B&B hikers will materialize on Oregon's wild coast.
"We hope to get local communities to promote these local rambles," Houston says. "Maybe it's these 33 gaps that's keeping us from getting that kind of guide produced."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail email@example.com.