Celebrating 100 Years of Publicly Owned Beaches

Quiet morning on the beach.

Quiet morning on the beach in Florence.

I grew up in Oregon and, consequently, for quite a while I didn’t really appreciate Oregon’s public beaches. It wasn’t until I started traveling as an adult and encountered no trespassing signs, fences, and limited parking in other states and countries that the true value of our public beaches became obvious. In Oregon we can walk for miles — literally — on the beach.  For 362 miles, we are limited only by natural features like headlands and rivers.

Nothing goes together better than a beach and a dog.

Nothing goes together better than a beach and a dog.

I’ve often heard of Governor Tom McCall’s “Beach Bill” passed in 1967 as the reason behind our public beaches, but that date has always confused me. Surely by 1967 there would have been plenty of people already taking claim to many miles of beach. In fact, our public beaches actually originated 100 years ago. In 1913, Governor Oswald West signed legislation which set aside Oregon’s beaches for public use. The legislation is simple, it states that:

“The shore of the Pacific Ocean, between ordinary high tide and extreme low tide, and from the Columbia River on the north to the Oregon and California State line on the south, excepting such portion or portions of such shore as may have heretofore been disposed of by the State, is hereby declared a public highway and shall forever remain open as such to the public.”

In 1913, there was no road system along the Oregon Coast. If you wanted to get from one beach town to the next, odds are, you used the beach. So at the time, the bill made sense. However Governor West’s motives, while seemingly about public highways were apparently also about securing public access to the beaches well into the future. The Beach Bill in 1967 established more public recreational use of the dry sand beaches all the way to the vegetation line.

SouthBeachWagon1915-historical

1915 photo of a wagon on the beach.
(Photo courtesy of Oregon Historic Photographs Collection, Copyright Bush House Museum, Salem Art Association Photo ID number bh0153.)

This year, join me in celebrating 100 years of public beach access by taking a long walk on one of our beaches. Which is your favorite?

Plant Identified: Rattlesnake Plantain
Siuslaw Falls

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