Celebrating a Century of Public Beaches in Oregon

One hundred years ago this week, Governor Oswald West and the Oregon Legislature gave the state a wonderful birthday present: setting aside its beaches as public property. We're pleased to celebrate this early land use victory:

The Oregon Encyclopedia recounts the story, and the later updates that further reinforced the public's ownership of beaches in Oregon:

West’s most famous achievement began as part of his 1913 biennial message to the legislature where he argued that the ocean beach, from north to south, should be declared a public highway. He wanted to extend an act that had passed in 1899, which mandated that the shore between high and low tides was a highway in Clatsop County, to remain forever open to the public. A bill to that effect passed both houses in less than a month, and West signed it on February 11, 1913. He later remembered finding his “inspiration” on horseback, having ridden from Elk Creek in Clatsop County, south to Cannon Beach, and then over Neahkahnie Mountain by postal trail to Nehalem.

The new statute affected only the “wet sand” between high and low tides, not the “dry sand” beaches used by the public for recreation. Nevertheless, West created the perception that the beaches were part of the public domain. Passage of the so-called Beach Bill in 1967 made public access to the shoreline permanent, but only because the doctrine created by West delayed private and commercial development of the beaches for more than a half century. Long after leaving office in 1915, he wrote: “No selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people.”

The "original" beach bill prevented the parcelization of Oregon's coastline for unlimited commercial development, in addition to opening up the coast for improved land transportation. Without Governor West's foresight, there would be no way for Oregon's revolutionary beach protections that came over 50 years later.

Sixty years before Oregon's pioneering statewide land use planning law, Senate Bill 100, Governor West and the Legislature had made history with a new way of regarding the state's lands, demonstrating yet again how Oregon "flies with her own wings."

As we mark Oregon's 154th birthday on February 14, we'll also be celebrating 100 years of protection and public access for Oregon's beaches.

We encourage you to celebrate with us by sharing this graphic on our Facebook page.

And if you love Oregon's coast as much as we do, and would like to support our work to further protect its beauty while fostering great communities throughout the state, please consider a gift to 1000 Friends at friends.org/support. Thank you!

Read more of this interesting history in an Oregonian article by Lori Tobias.

Oregon Stories, March 2013

This page was featured in our Oregon Stories e-newsletter for March 2013.

Read other stories in this issue:

Scenes from our 2013 Tom McCall Gala
Land Use Leadership Initiative Visits UGB
A Century of Oregon Public Beaches
Bringing Better Biking and Walking to Bend
Updates from Salem: Our Legislative Page

Access the full issue here.

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