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Gigantic Landscape Changes at One Popular Oregon Coast Town Over the Decades

Published 04/23/22 at 10:52 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Gigantic Landscape Changes at One Popular Oregon Coast Town Over the Decades

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(Seaside, Oregon) – Sitting fairly close to the northern tip of the Oregon coast, Seaside has for well over 100 years been a kind of centerpiece to family-oriented fun along these shores. With its vast array of fun and kooky attractions, it's drawn parents with kids in tow since just before the turn of the 20th century, funneled in from major population centers like southern Washington, the Portland Metro area and Salem. That's one aspect of this town that hasn't changed much, except that this family slant has gotten bigger over the decades. (Above: Seaside around 1910 or so, courtesy Seaside Historical Society)

Yet from its inception around 1880, the north Oregon coast favorite has seen some drastic changes in landscape, probably more so than most areas. And much of it has to do with something 20 miles to the north: the jetties at the Columbia River. There have been other wild and surprising geologic changes here as well.

In fact, there used to be a lot less of Seaside in its early days. Until about the 1920s, it was a rocky, stony beach – a bit like the Cove is today. And it was a much shorter beach, with a somewhat steep incline towards the sea. Look at the photo at top, taken in 1910 or so, and you can see a huge difference. This is also a summer shot, which means there is more sand than usual and the incline isn't as steep as other photos of it in other seasons. It's a lot of rubbly material as well as big, polished, rounded stones as you see in the Cove today.

Until 1917 or so, there was about 300 feet or less of beach, and it wasn't soft and comfy all year-round. In winters it was often an even shorter stretch. It was the completion of the jetty system around Astoria that really shifted the currents, so that within a few short years it doubled in width if not more. Work on the jetties began in the 1880s, and the south jetty was completed in 1917. By 1920 it looked a lot more like it does now. It was insanely fast.

These days, there's about 1,000 feet of sand between the Prom and the tideline.

In fact, this entire section of the north Oregon coast was drastically changed. Half a mile and sometimes more were added onto areas like Warrenton and Fort Stevens. There are enormous chunks of that northern landscape that did not exist before 1885, and certainly before 1920.

Another added layer to all this is the introduction of Scotch Broom to the area, used to stabilize the dunes. Yet this is an invasive species so what it did was take over and actually spread the dunes eastward as well. Large sections of grassy plains around Highway 101 that were used as feeding areas for livestock disappeared beneath these new dunes.

These days, Seaside shaves down its dunes every once in awhile. If you want to know what the town would look like without this work, look at Gearhart, according to Oregon coast geologist Tom Horning. There, giant tufts of dune exist intersecting with each other, all covered in layers of beach grass. Seaside would be like this if left without some dune-scaping.

You'll notice from the historical photos there was a giant pier at Seaside – a rather wacky folly that was shortlived thanks to Oregon coast storms.

Then in 1987, another major change took place in Seaside, with hundreds of feet getting added to the Cove area.

The Cove in its early smelly days in the '80s, courtesy Tom Horning

A massive landslide on Tillamook Head dropped tons of material into the waters and it piled up here, pushing back the tides. Boulders and rocks slowly filled in the area, and at first it formed a new spit. This delighted local fishermen, but soon repelled everyone as giant pools of sea water were formed here and they quickly began to stink of rotting sea life.

Eventually, more rocks and then sand filled all that in because of the tides and more than 100 yards were added to a shoreline that was rather meager.

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