Co-Authored by Holly Romero, Waldport and Charlie Plybon, South Beach.
No place in Oregon better represents constant change backed by weathered resiliency than the coast. As we prepare for the July 4 weekend and the coming summer season, the sneaker wave of COVID-19 has left its mark not just on the small communities that dot the coastline, but also on how we recreate. Why is the beach — which feels like the one safe place left — so vulnerable?
Simple answer: Oregon State Parks estimated $22 million budget shortfall.
If you’re camping, hiking, or beachcombing anywhere in the 80 parks and recreation areas along the Oregon Coast, you’re going to need to apply the principles of rugged individualism like never before. Don’t rely on public agencies to ease your experience or protect your playground. Take responsibility and consider yourself a newly minted beach steward, minus the badge. With Oregon State Park beach rangers now spending more of their time working campgrounds and maintaining day use facilities and less time patrolling the beaches, there are fewer boots on the sand managing and protecting this natural resource.
While Oregon’s economy is slowly reopening, the ramifications of a months-long shutdown on the revenue streams of user fees and lottery ticket sales will continue to take its toll for years to come. That’s right…years. Let that sink in. Staffing already took a huge hit. Oregon State Parks laid off much of its seasonal and full-time staff, reassigning its skeleton crew where they are most needed – in revenue generating campgrounds. So expect a different level of service along the coast and throughout the park system. Plan ahead by checking the state park status website before setting out, educate yourself on what restrictions or limitations are now in place and follow the state’s “Prepare + Care” guide. Pack your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer and garbage bags to haul your trash and recycling home. Protect yourself and those around you. Bring a face covering for potentially crowded areas like parking lots, restrooms and those epic viewpoints where physical distancing isn’t always possible.
Oregonians are big fans of the People’s Coast, a tradition that was officially protected in 1913 when Gov. Oswald West and the Oregon Legislature established the state’s 362 miles of shoreline as a public highway. In 1967, the Legislature went a step further, with a strong push by Gov. Tom McCall, and passed the Beach Bill, which established a permanent public easement for access and recreation along the ocean shore seaward of the existing line of vegetation, regardless of ownership.
This current financial squeeze is an opportunity for those of us who love exploring and recreating on the beach to clearly define our priorities and start planning for the future. It’s a call to action. Millions of visitors every year…that means a lot of plastic, illegal dumping, and increased risks to the safety of humans as well as wildlife. All while agency oversight is shrinking. This summer season has already seen the mauling of a young harbor seal from a dog unchecked to trampled snowy plover eggs from careless beachgoers. Will Oregonians rise up, in protection of our beaches and support for our parks, or will we use and leave our public resource behind this July 4 weekend like a cheap disposable? We can and need to do better. Some snowy plovers hatched just this week and are roaming a central coast stretch of beach. Let’s keep them safe.
Time to step up, beach stewards. Form small, COVID-safe cleanup crews, be respectful and limit use of park facilities where possible carrying out all of your trash and gear. Avoid the fireworks, at least on the beach and around the ocean shore where they are not legal – the noise, debris and chemicals are harmful to wildlife. In the longer term you can even consider the Adopt-a-Park Program to help steward a park’s future in perpetuity. Check in with the many non-profits and programs devoted to coastal protection like Surfrider Foundation, the Oregon Coast Alliance and Coastwatch. It’s the People’s Coast and we, the people shall protect it. Don’t turn your back on the ocean, Oregon, or the beach.