Biggest Oregon Coast News Stories of 2009
(Oregon Coast) – It's the year that started with thankfully lower gas prices, a crummy economy and lots of odd nature news.
By and large, not too many are sorry to see 2009 go, especially those in the tourism biz on the Oregon coast. But it certainly had its stunning, even shocking moments, like a tornado in Lincoln City, weird squid washing up in the hundreds, a PBS show visiting the coast more than once, a favorite state park near Manzanita shutting down, and so much more.
Throughout the year, the economy was the big downer and the continuing newsmaker – as everywhere.
The folks at Escape Lodging – which owns Inn at Cannon Beach, Ocean Lodge and some other properties on the north coast – were noticing big drops in reservations for major weeks like spring break or Memorial Day weekend. They, like many others, were helping to make up for lost guests by lowering prices – sometimes quite a bit.
All coastal businesses were trampled by a seriously down winter and spring, and they were all dreading summer. Back in May, Ocean Lodge’s Wendy Higgins was among those were lamenting slow reservations for an otherwise usually huge Memorial Weekend.
Then, a sudden game change surprised everyone, as the weekend filled up at the last minute all across the coast, partially thanks to stellar weather.
“Reservations were slower coming in this year,” Higgins said in May. “A month ago, looking ahead, we were a bit concerned. People are waiting and not booking out as far. We are full on Friday and only have a couple rooms left on Saturday and Sunday.”
Throughout the year, and even the summer, the big trend was day trips, shorter stays or people grabbing kitchen units so they could cook meals instead of going out. This certainly hurt the restaurants a little more.
“Last year, guests booked more two-night stays and three-night stays,” said Escape Lodging’s Kristine Gottsch earlier in the year. “This year, fewer guests are booking two-night stays. Callers are shopping our rates and saying, ‘We’ll call you back.’ Some callers say, ‘Is this really the best price you can give me?' "
Coastal business were especially worried about June, as that month in 2008 proved disastrous with bundles of crummy weather.
The wish for decent June weather came true, and some thought they might see a little early bump in their cash registers thanks to hordes of visitors who checked out the well-publicized extreme low tides of mid-June. But that didn’t necessarily translate into better numbers for everyone.
The trend of shorter stays and more day-trippers seemed to rule June, but in the end it wound up an okay month. As summer 2009, things improved, and most businesses told BeachConnection.net they either met their average summer numbers or were only down slightly.
As usual, the year kicks off with wacky nature news, as this is the most dynamic time on the coast.
2008 ended with a banner year for clamming, at least on the north coast. State authorities estimated a record nine million clams for just the area from Seaside to Astoria, some 20 miles. That stayed through much of the year, making 2009 one tasty year for fans of the clam.
Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, said it was the biggest number of the entire decade.
For the central coast, agates were at monster levels thanks to storm action – although there wasn’t as much sand scouring as in previous years.
Storms helped reveal ancient forest stumps about 4,000 years old, as well as rockbed that’s more than 17 million years old – both just south of Newport.
In the Agate Beach area, agates were nuts, and so were the crowds. Once word got out, largely through BeachConnection.net, owners of a Newport agate and rock store reported business was through the roof. Owner K. Meyers said she even had to open up on a Sunday to accommodate agate hunters who were knocking on her door like crazy.
In April, Killer whales were really making a splash along the coast. They often show up that time of year and linger until the middle of May, usually searching for baby gray whales to munch on. Several were spotted in mid-April, and that continued for a month.
The massive sand erosion of early 2008 came back to haunt us, as the big discovery of two big cannon in Arch Cape the previous year began going through a rigorous set of tests to see if they came from the same ship whose cannon gave Cannon Beach its name. The two cannon were sent to Texas A&M University in May, going to its Conservation Research Laboratory, part of the School’s Nautical Archaeology Program.
The other big news of the cannon came in the summer when they made the PBS show “History Detectives,” which paid for various tests on its own. These were inconclusive as to which ship they actually came from, but they were clearly from a ship just like the one dropped the famed original cannon, and from that time period.
The cannon are assumed to be remnants from the 1846 shipwreck of the USS Shark, sunk on the Columbia Bar, although evidence still remains mostly circumstantial.
The show also featured a segment on an Oregon woman who had some of the famed wax that used to wash up around Manzanita for decades, which apparently came from a Spanish ship a good couple hundred years ago.
Another interesting find made a big splash with readers at BeachConnection.net but didn’t get much attention from other media. In the spring, two new gravesites were found at a south Newport cemetery, leading to further speculation there could be many more such forgotten burial plots at this rather ancient place.
The identity of those buried in the graves is not known, as the metal markers were actually made to host paper placards with the names of the deceased. Those had decayed long ago.
By June, enormous low tides made the news everywhere, clocking in as much as minus three feet, which is as low as they can possibly get. They were actually larger on the central coast, but impressive numbers were still being seen on the north coast.
The result was a flood of visitors at that time, as well as TV news folk wading in the water, there to scope out the wild sights not visible any other way.
These happened in July and August as well, although not quite as low as minus three feet. It made for some nice summer tourism numbers, however.
Also making for good numbers of visitors were the abundance of whales being spotted in Seaside in July and August. Gray whales, including plenty of calves, had been seen cavorting around the area since July.
Morris Grover, with the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay, said that was a little unusual because whales aren’t known for hanging out in Seaside too often, and with the flat terrain there it’s much harder to see them.
Ironically, it happens there more often than people think, said Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium..
By September, a shark stranding and tons of sardines were making the news in the Seaside area. With the ten-day sardine fishing season that began that month, the beach was suddenly becoming littered with sardines washing up.
They were eventually picked clean by seagulls.
Then the big warning went out about a small tsunami on the Oregon coast – one that wasn’t predicted to turn deadly, unless you were on a small, tightly enclosed beach.
An October earthquake and tsunami created a massive warning along the coast, but in the end did not cause any discernable rise in wave surges or even a minor detectable tsunami.
While many coastal residents were chuckling over the event, it actually turned out to be a non-event. However, government agencies applauded the chance for a dry run of a tsunami warning and reaction, and the general consensus was that it all went well and efficiently.
Late October saw a frightening development in the mounds of pretty and surreal sea foam that dominated the seascape at that time. A single-celled algae began harming masses of seabirds, causing hundreds of them to wash up dead along the beaches.
Dozens were rescued by various agencies and many of those were rehabilitated back to health.
The algae – although harmless to humans or pets – washes off the natural oils that seabirds have to keep them insulated from the cold. Without that oil, they get hypothermia and die.
Weather became the big news at the end of the year, as about 20 homes were damaged in Lincoln City in early November after an extremely rare tornado formed just off the beach, then rampaged onshore for less than a minute.
All this happened as major windstorms, massive waves and even lightning hit various parts of the Oregon coast that night.
Lincoln County deputies reported a damage path about two blocks wide, leading from the beach and stretching about three blocks to the east. The damage mainly consisted of broken windows and downed trees, but one of the suffered extensive damage as the roof was blown off and it was practically split in two.
Nearby, the tornado picked up the homeowners' deck and slammed it against the side of his house.
Most of the affected homes were vacation rentals and were empty. No injuries had been reported, but locals were shaken for a while.
Storms and currents caused two somewhat rare turtles to wash up on the north and central coast in December. They both wound up being rehabilitated at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, with one moving on to another facility for further rehabilitation.
One of the biggest news stories on the coast – and certainly one that got bunches of hits on BeachConnection.net – was the enormous run of Humboldt squid that washed up in December. Hundreds were found on the north coast, and dozens were found around Pacific City, Lincoln City and around Florence.
What made this story even more extraordinary was the fact these things essentially froze almost immediately because of the temps that were below 30 degrees at the time.
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