Klootchy Creek County Park, found between Seaside and Cannon Beach on the north Oregon coast, is home to a dead Sitka spruce that was once the largest tree in Oregon. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Dead trees don’t usually make compelling roadside attractions, but the giant stump at Klootchy Creek is an exception.

Once measuring 200 feet tall with a 17-foot diameter and a circumference of 56 feet, the Sitka spruce between Seaside and Cannon Beach was officially the largest tree in Oregon, and one of the largest trees of its species in the country, before a windstorm finally destroyed it in 2007.

The tree sprouted from the earth some 750 years ago, when only the Clatsop tribe of the Chinookan peoples lived along that stretch of coastline, long before European fur trappers and settler colonizers arrived.

By the time the land it stood on was called Oregon, the tree had long since reached maturity. It eventually topped out at 216 feet tall – though its crown at some point was cut short to 200. The tree withstood centuries of windstorms, lightning strikes and fires. It even survived the blades of timber companies that tore through neighboring forests with abandon, leaving it as one of the few true giants remaining in the region.

Nature finally took its course in 2006, when a winter storm blew out a chunk of rotted wood along an old lightning scar on the trunk, creating a cavity 15 feet wide and two feet deep. Clatsop County officials said the tree wasn’t likely to survive and contemplated cutting it down, according to reports in The Oregonian at the time.

One year later, the ailing tree was dealt a final blow. During back-to-back storms that battered the coastline in December 2007, the giant Sitka spruce split 75 feet from the ground, sending tons of shattered wood and huge, moss-covered limbs to the ground. County officials decided to clean up the mess and leave the tree to rot in peace.

Today, visitors to Klootchy Creek County Park along U.S. 26 can see the severed, sun-bleached trunk standing tall – still a giant beside its smaller neighbors. A piece of fallen trunk has been set beside the old tree, rotting from within, its decaying body providing fresh life for the next generation of trees.

Klootchy Creek, once famous as home to the big tree, is now a quick pit stop for travelers on the way to the coast, a place to stretch legs and take a quick walk along the short, forested trail. The park has also become a gateway for the new Klootchy Creek mountain bike trail system, which is replacing the tree as the park’s primary attraction. Visitors access the 25-acre park off U.S. 26, at a signed turnoff about 1.5 miles east of U.S. 101.

The giant Sitka spruce might be dead, but the land where it rots continues to thrive. Stripped of its titles and most of its height, the tree continues to inspire awe for all those who stop by to see it. Stand by the stump and stare up to the sky, and you might be able to imagine the heights it once reached.

This story is published with permission as part of a statewide collaboration of news organizations to share stories. Salem Reporter is part of the collaboration. 

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