Discover a birthday celebration of sorts along the Oregon Coast that’s 100 years in the making and – rain or shine – you’re invited to join Oregon’s Beach Birthday Party.
When it comes to Oregon’s fickle weather, we like to brag: “Give it five minutes and it’ll most certainly change!” It really is true that there’s never a dull moment in the great outdoors, especially at this time of year when major rain storms blow in from the Pacific Ocean to pound the Oregon Coast.
So it was a “rare” afternoon as the sun shimmered across the long sandy stretch just south from the South Jetty Viewing Tower near the mouth of the Columbia River.
“We get some of the best weather anywhere much of the year,” said Dave Posalski, a longtime Seaside resident. “The wind, the rain, it’s all just a great thing for people to experience,” he added with a chuckle. Like thousands of other people, Posalski and his friends had traveled into Fort Stevens State Park to visit the ocean shore for the freedom and openness that an Oregon beach provides visitors.
Posalski said — rain or shine — walking an Oregon beach is an exhilarating experience. “It’s the waves and the power of the ocean,” noted Posalski. “It’s also about finding some quiet time. You can be out at the beach and be the only person there for miles.”
Oregon’s 363 miles of public shoreline certainly offers plenty of elbow room to stretch out and play, plus incredible scenic drama that takes the breath away.
But here is a fact that surprises many people: the law that protects our access to Oregon’s beaches is 100 years old this year, and we owe a debt of thanks to an Oregon leader who made it happen. A century ago, Governor Oswald West (1911-15) saw Oregon’s coastal future and didn’t like what he saw as more and more visitors bought up coastal lands and put up “Keep Out” signs.
“The roots of our public access to Oregon’s ocean shore actually go back to 1913,” said Richard Walkoski, a historian with the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Dept. “West was a governor who was way ahead of his time because he had a vision of what Oregon needed to have preserved.”
Historian Jeff Smith of the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria agreed and offered, “By the early 1900’s steamboats and the railroad connected growing numbers of visitors with Oregon’s beaches. They were there to enjoy the beautiful Oregon coast.”
The trouble was, as more people bought lots and developed vacation destinations they locked up the beaches and called them “private.”
“People were looking for ways to make money and were aware that the easiest way to do that would be to claim private ownership and then sell that,” said Smith.
In fact, by 1910 approximately 25 miles of Oregon beach had been sold off to private ownership. Developers were establishing resort communities for a new tourism industry. Governor Oswald West knew there was a growing conflict with the public’s access to the shoreline. So West, a Democrat, convinced a solid Republican legislature to declare Oregon’s entire coastline a public highway. Senate Bill 22, sometimes called the “Open Beaches Act,” was passed during the 27th session of the Oregon legislature on February 14, 1913.
West’s proposal passed at no cost to the state and assured the public’s access to our beaches. “He got no opposition and the beaches were declared a highway, open to the public forever,” added Walkoski. Later, the 1967 Beach Bill – led by Governor Tom McCall — affirmed the public’s enjoyment of the beach in harmony with private land rights.
Today, Oregonians not only enjoy beach access but can take pride in a leader’s vision that made it happen. Across most seaboard states, particularly on the east coast, much of the shoreline is privately owned. In fact, only two other states, Texas and Hawaii, allow public beach access like Oregon. Oregonians are fortunate for Gov West’s vision and his strategy to assure public access to the coast.
“I think about West every time I travel down Coastal Highway 101,” said Smith. “When I pass through Oswald West State Park I am mindful of the actions that he took on Oregonians behalf. That is probably something we should all be thankful for when we visit the beach.”