Celebrating 100 years of Oregon’s public shore (2013)
Today—February 13, 2013—marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of Senate Bill 22, sometimes called the Open Beaches Act. The bill was put forward by Governor Oswald West during the 27th session of the Oregon legislative assembly back in 1913. It was a time when the future of Oregon’s shore was as cloudy as the weather. Almost 25 miles of beachfront property had already been sold on the north coast, yet people depended upon the beaches to travel the rugged headlands.
West, who was a staunch defender of public land ownership, drafted a bill to address the issue. It stated,
“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.”
This simple act—66 words in total—had a powerful effect. By blocking additional sales of tidelands and protecting free passage on the new public highway, the bill also gave permanent right of access to more than 360 miles of shore for recreation. The use of the dry sand would be clarified 54 years later, as many know, by Governor Tom McCall’s Beach Bill, but it was West’s action that laid the foundation for the beachcombing, tide pool exploration, whale watching, and other coastal activities that Oregonians enjoy, and will continue to enjoy for generations.
In recognition of his commitment to preserving Oregon’s shore for public use, a park was dedicated in Governor West’s honor 45 years later. Short Sand Beach, as it was known, was renamed Oswald West State Park in 1958. West and his wife had a vacation home at Cannon Beach and he used to ride his horse to Nehalem and back on the sand. A commemorative plaque at the viewpoint reads:
Today, only two other states, Texas and Hawaii, have public beach access laws like Oregon’s. In other states, particularly on the East coast, much of the shoreline is privately owned. The Open Beaches Act is a unique part of Oregon’s heritage, and its legacy deserves to be celebrated. In partnership with coastal associations and other groups, Oregon State Parks is planning events to commemorate the “beach centennial” this year. Keep watching Go Guide to find out when they are announced. And for more on the history of Oregon’s beaches, be sure to see the online exhibit of images put together by the Oregon State Archives.
Coastline is ours because of one man (The Register-Guard, Eugene)