Local conservation organizations Yakona Nature Preserve and McKenzie River Trust have partnered to permanently protect 430 acres on the Yaquina River estuary. Founded by longtime Newport residents JoAnn and Bill Barton, Yakona Nature Preserve & Learning Center offers educational programming, community events, and guided access to the historic site. On Monday, March 11th, the area was permanently protected through a conservation easement with local nonprofit McKenzie River Trust, ensuring the site’s future remains focused on serving the community through conservation, education, and building cultural connections.

“We deeply value the opportunity to preserve this land, a small remnant of the spruce-dominated fog belt forests that once blanketed the Pacific Northwest coastline,” said JoAnn Barton, co-founder of the Yakona Nature Preserve. “We take great comfort in knowing McKenzie River Trust will ensure this vital but decimated ecosystem is protected for all time. The McKenzie River Trust team, as new friends and collaborators, has our full trust as we work toward reaching our long-term goals of education, research, and restoration.”

Yakona Nature Preserve, established in 2018, is a living laboratory for natural and cultural history, sciences, and the arts. In 2022, the Yakona Learning Center became the public charity arm of the Yakona Nature Preserve, providing administrative management, programmatic facilitation, and fundraising for the Preserve. Serving students from elementary to post-graduate ages, Yakona connected more than 1,700 individuals to the land through their programming in 2023 alone.

Yakona’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalie Schaefer, shares that “Yakona centers ‘students as scientists.’ We work with elementary teachers and their classrooms to engage students in climate science monitoring and data collection. At the high school level, students gain valuable job skills and science credits while participating in community science and service-learning programs.” Education programs also serve postsecondary students who have access to the area for research.

“Part of the success of Yakona is the incredible landscape it is set in,” said Community Arts & Engagement Manager Rena Olson-Snyder. The area, which is closed to public access, boasts an impressive mix of spruce forests, estuaries, marshes, and sloughs. A learning center on-site provides year-round programming that promotes community connection and education regarding the preserve’s unique habitats, climate science, and history, including its namesake, the Yaqo’n Indians, who have lived on and tended Yaquina Estuary lands since time immemorial.

“Working with the Yakona team has been inspiring,” shares Margaret Treadwell, Central Coast Conservation Program Manager for McKenzie River Trust. “The peninsula, which was purchased and rehabilitated by JoAnn and Bill, provides an incredible example of intact coastal forests and tidal wetlands. The founding of the Nature Preserve and Learning Center is such a gift to the Newport community and central coast region. Working in partnership with Yakona Nature Preserve to ensure the permanent protection of this special area furthers the missions of both our organizations on behalf of land, water, community, and a vibrant future for Oregon’s central coast.”

Despite its name, the McKenzie River Trust has worked on the Oregon Coast since 2004 but extended its service area north into Lincoln County in 2021, filling a gap in land protection resources left by the Central Coast Land Conservancy, which closed its doors due to impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic. The conservation easement preserves the site’s natural resources, including roughly 412 acres of forest, wetlands, and sloughs. These areas are managed under a forest management plan that promotes a return to Old Growth conditions over the decades ahead.

Community members interested in visiting Yakona can find a range of programming on their website’s events page. Those looking to get more involved can support the efforts of Yakona Nature Preserve & Learning Center through volunteer opportunities and charitable giving. For more information about Yakona, contact

About Yakona Nature Preserve & Learning Center

Yakona Nature Preserve & Learning Center works to promote and facilitate formal and informal educational opportunities that allow people of all ages and abilities to observe, discover, and research local cultural history and natural ecosystems. We work in partnership with several school districts, the local community college, universities, and local tribes to link curricular objectives to the land, with student activities in science, art, and history reinforcing concepts and knowledge attainment at each grade level. The overarching goal is to restore and preserve native forests and wildlife while educating youth and the community about the importance of the Sitka-spruce mixed forest ecosystem and its role in mitigating the climate crisis.

About McKenzie River Trust

The McKenzie River Trust is a regional nonprofit land trust with offices in Eugene and Newport, Ore. Our mission is to help people protect and care for the lands and rivers they cherish in western Oregon. Since 1989, we’ve acquired property and voluntary conservation easements to protect more than 8,000 acres of clean, free-flowing rivers, plentiful salmon runs, and vibrant farms and forests that provide livelihoods and habitat. We envision a future in which conservation lands are at the core of community efforts to sustain clean water, abundant fish and wildlife, and diverse natural resource economies in western Oregon. Working with private willing landowners from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, we take on the responsibility of caring for land, water, and people, and ensuring that these resources are available for generations to come. For more information, visit

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