The People's Coast: Reflections from our DukeEngage Intern

Victoria Lim, an intern from Duke University, visited the Oregon Coast for the first time on a service project in July 2014. She shares her reaction in this reflection:

 

Fog. Chilly Winds. Rain.

The Oregon Coast at Seaside was unlike any other coast that I have been to before. The beaches I have been to typically boast sunny weather and waving palm trees. Here at Seaside, average temperatures during the summer rarely rise above 80 degrees. When the weather finally cleared and the sun was shining, we gingerly made our way to the beach. My first thought was simply how expansive the beach was, stretching for miles on either side. Nearby, Tillamook Head towered over beach-goers. Although it was only a short walk from the downtown promenade, I felt like I was in a different world, one filled with nature’s untouched beauty.

This is because the Oregon coast is unlike any other – the entire coast is public land. Since all beaches in Oregon are public property, they are protected from any private or commercial developments that would have otherwise encroached on them. In fact, Oregon has been this way for over 100 years, spearheaded by a landmark decision in 1913 by Governor Oswald West, and expanded in Governor Tom McCall’s Beach Bill in 1967. Without their foresight, I would perhaps not have been enjoying the beautiful, untouched coast that day.

That evening, my peers and I discussed what it means for a plant species to be invasive. We had spent the previous day using our hands – ridding the wetlands at Tillamook Bay of Canadian Thistle, Himalayan Blackberries and Morning Glory weeds that had overgrown the native spruce trees. While we may have helped ongoing efforts to restore the wetlands to its original state, our measures were temporary at best. Once present, these invasive species often grow rapidly, compete with native plants, and disrupt the ecological balance established before. The emergence of invasive species is often a result of human activity, and the search for a permanent solution ultimately points towards keeping human development in check.

In many ways, Oregonians have been pioneers in land use, early to recognize the value of the land and to protect it through statewide land use laws and a shared commitment to the environment. Unlike many other conservation movements where results can be quantified or more rapidly realized, the benefits of land use planning require patience and unfold over a long time span. Like the painstaking removal of invasive species, land use planning ultimately revolves around the idea of a sustainable future with mankind in harmony with the land. Under the law, the Oregon coast belongs to the people, but it is the people that must ultimately keep it that way.

Victoria is a rising junior and an economics major from Duke University. She is interning with 1000 Friends of Oregon as part of the university’s DukeEngage program, which places students with non-profit organizations around the world.