OregonScape: Fall 2015

Fall 2015, 116:3

On February 13, 1913, Governor Oswald West signed a law that officially made Oregon’s beaches a public highway. For decades people had been driving their wagons and buggies along the shore. Until Highway 101 was built, the only roads connecting coastal towns were on the north coast, between Astoria and Tillamook, and the south coast, from Coos Bay south to California. Along the central coast no such roads existed. The 1913 law instantly saved hundreds of miles of ocean shore for public travel and other uses, ensuring residents and visitors could continue to drive their cars and trucks from town to town, at least at low tide.

After Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, was built in the 1920s, beaches were no longer required for commerce and transport, however, people continued to drive along them for recreation. People still drove down to the beach, as they do today, to enjoy themselves. Driving next to the ocean requires careful attention to the tide. This photo, from Roads End at the north of Lincoln City, shows what happened when a 1950 visitor went swimming and forgot to check the tide tables. As the saying goes, “Time and tide wait for no man.”

It is no longer possible to drive along many sections of Oregon’s beaches. Later changes in the law, erosion and other natural changes in the land, and the need to protect fragile natural areas keep automobiles off the sands in many areas. But where driving on the sand is still permitted, it is still prudent to keep one eye on the water.