Newport, Ore.: Discover the Deep

Road Journals Blog—Many attractions are designed to stimulate kids, from water parks to IKEA playrooms, but some kid-centric experiences can both captivate and educate.

I watched that magic combination unfold during a two-hour boat cruise offered by Marine Discovery Tours, which heads out of Newport’s bayfront. The tour’s naturalist guide, Athena Crichton, has plenty of experience getting kids excited about the natural world—she’s worked as a marine educator at the Hatfield Marine Science Center for the past decade.

Athena Crichton and an attentive student | Lucy Burningham

She quickly lured the kids into full participation. “I need someone to help me lower a crab pot to the ocean floor,” she belted into a microphone. Eager assistants donned lifejackets and listened attentively as she described the life cycle of a Dungeness crab, then dropped the pots into deep waters.

Later they examined under a microscope inside the cabin. Microscopes might seem mundane in a classroom, but on a 65-foot seagoing vessel the tool was as interesting as taking a turn at the captain’s wheel.

When the boat returned to the crab pots, a crowd gathered as they were pulled to the deck, along with the three snapping Dungeness they contained. The bravest kids donned work gloves so they could proudly hold the crustaceans out for parents and grandparents.

“There’s nothing better than to hand children a chunk of bait to stuff into a crab pot, then watch their faces as they make the connection that their bait was the thing that caused Dungeness crab to crawl aboard,” said Fran Matthews, owner of Marine Discovery.

Eventually Crichton returned the crabs to the water, but not before the kids had a chance to rethink everything from crab cakes to the reality show the Deadliest Catch.

Lucy Burningham wrote about Newport, Ore., for the July/August 2011 issue of VIA.

This article was first published in August 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.