Tourism Officials Sound Off on Oregon Coast Beach Courtesy, Safety
Published June '07
(Oregon Coast) – Unfortunately, a favorite pastime of Oregonians - or tourists - is to camp on the beach someplace. This is illegal in many places on the Oregon coast. In those places where it isn’t, it’s simply not a good idea.
With summer arriving, various concerns about beach safety and courtesy are coming to the fore, including the usual warnings of “stay away from logs in the surf,” “don’t swim in the ocean” and “watch the tides.”
Those are only the more oft spoken cautions – albeit with good reason. But some things, like camping on the beaches, camping out in your vehicle by the side of the road, littering, or not driving on beaches where it's obviously prohibited are warnings that are a bit off the beaten path, so to speak, or they're a kind of rarely addressed common sense or courtesy. They need to be said as well, however.
According to Dave Woody, a head Park Ranger with Oregon State Parks in Newport, camping is prohibited in a variety of places on the beaches. “Camping on the beach is prohibited in front of any State Park, within city limits of coastal towns, or if otherwise posted,” Woody said. “For instance, camping on the beach at Cannon Beach is prohibited by City ordinance. Camping on Nehalem spit is prohibited because it is in front of a State Park. Camping on Clatsop Beach is prohibited due to State and County ordinance.”
Those guidelines make it awfully hard to follow. Parts of Manzanita may be open to camping, if you didn’t know better, because there is a specific ordinance there that targets a chunk of the beaches at the north end, with signage warnings. But no signs exist on the southern end of town, not far from the beginning of Nehalem Bay State Park. It’s simply best to not try camping anywhere on the beach, as it’s hard to tell where you may get ticketed.
“As far as it goes, we try to discourage beach camping due to safety and sanitary concerns,” Woody said. “The main problem is access: where do you park? I hope this does not confuse the whole thing, but the bottom line is that overall it’s not a good idea to camp on the beach.”
Woody cited several reasons it’s not a smart move - beyond the whole aspect of where do you go to the bathroom.
“Aside from high tides and rolling logs, the other hazards I can think of might be rocks rolling off the bank,” Woody said. “This has happened once that I can remember. Or people looking for an easy target to scare or terrorize. This has happened too.”
Some locals and tourism officials on the coast take a slightly harsher tone about the activity, such as Newport’s Guy DiTorrice. He still has his hands in the coastal tourism business in a few ways, even after his tenure as head of the Oregon Coast Visitor Association ended in 2000.
“I've become increasingly annoyed these past years with people who think the beach is their personal backyard,” DiTorrice said. “They leave fires burning, trash accumulating, empty water bottles floating and balled up disposable diapers sunning themselves.
“As far as I'm concerned, there are no beaches where one may camp.”
Another deep concern of DiTorrice's - one that he has expressed in the past as a writer for BeachConnection.net - is those who decide to camp out in their cars or larger vehicles by the side of the road. That is not only illegal in most areas – and prominently posted as such – but it’s downright trashy and inconsiderate, DiTorrice has said.
Again, bathroom concerns are another major factor here, although it is possible to at least start up and drive the car to the nearest rest stop. But close inspection to some beach pull-offs will reveal this obvious of answers is something not everyone has thought of.
DiTorrice added disdain for those who drive on the beaches when they shouldn’t. “The State clearly marks on the official highway map on which beaches one may drive a vehicle and when. For example, never in Lincoln County without a State Park permit,” he said.
There are only a small handful of these spots as well, such as around Cape Kiwanda, a little area around Tierra Del Mar, a tiny stretch in the middle of Lincoln City, and a couple spots around Warrenton and Gearhart. You should never dirty up Oregon’s beaches by driving your car on places where it’s not permitted.
BeachConnection.net’s official stand on the subject is that no one should ever drive on the beaches, and visitors should ignore that temptation even in those places where it is legal. It makes the beaches dirty and unattractive and it encourages meatheads with some sort of attitude to run amok. Drunken redneck locals do it as often as boozed up visitors with a penchant for the wonton. Neither demographic is appreciated by this website.
A few years ago, a group of young, sauced tourists went on a joyride on a beach at Cannon Beach in the middle of the night, which ended in tragedy when the car slammed into a rock structure.
Back in the late 90’s, a pair of disturbed young men shot and killed a couple on a beach in Seaside just before sunrise in what became a notorious thrill kill. Several people at bonfires throughout those wee hours reported dealing with the pair, and being a little spooked by their odd, dark and twitchy demeanor.
Those two incidents are extreme, but they further illustrate why driving around the beaches or sleeping on them can be a bad idea. It could be you sleeping on a beach the next time some maniac decides to go on a drunken zip around the sand.
The more common problems are the ones officials are most worried about, however. Every year, there is at least one news report of a child hurt by a rolling log (like the child from Washington this spring who was badly injured on an Oregon beach).
All-too-common are those stories of rescues – or rescue attempts – by the Coast Guard after someone, usually a surfer or swimmer, gets stuck in the freezing ocean or a bad undertow.
Don’t go swimming in Oregon’s oceans, as the waters are too cold and the tides can pull some deadly surprises.
Ambling out onto rocky ledges close to the tide is also a bad idea, even if the tide seems mellow for the moment. Sneaker waves often come up and wallop those who venture where they shouldn’t, injuring them – or they are left stranded on a not-too-distant rock structure by an incoming tide.
The rules of the beaches are fairly simple, but bear repeating at least a few times each season, whether it’s the summertime and its fair weather or storm-watching season with its many perils.
Keith Chandler, manager of the Seaside Aquarium, has a rather amusing take on this particularly stern, serious subject. “I like to reinforce the notion of beach safety on the business people around here by saying, ‘Statistics show that 100 percent of all people who die on Oregon’s beaches never come back to spend their money,’ “ he said.
BeachConnection.net and those in the tourism industry need you to have fun while you’re here – but we also need you to be safe and wise, and ask you to be courteous and respectful as well .
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