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Five Trail Closures on Oregon Coast Due to Legal Wrangling, Possibly More Coming

Published 12/22/23 at 7:45 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Five Trail Closures on Oregon Coast Due to Legal Wrangling, Possibly More Coming

(Oceanside, Oregon) – A personal injury lawsuit against the City of Newport is beginning to have a chilling effect on some recreational areas along the Oregon coast and inland, resulting in a few closed trails. (Above: Short Beach, Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Among those closed down are two in Oceanside, two in Waldport and one in Garibaldi.

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The case stems from a 2019 incident where a woman walking her dog, accompanied by friend, was walking over a small, wooden bridge that crosses a creek at Agate Beach, slipping on the wet wood and breaking her leg. She later sued Newport for being negligent by not providing enough warning the bridge would be slippery or taking precautions to prevent it. She sued for more than $345,000.

The case was initially won by the woman, but an appeal by the City of Newport saw the case soon dismissed on the basis of a rule known as recreational immunity. That rule says cases like this can be halted quickly because landowners and public agencies that open up their land to public recreation cannot be held liable for injuries.

However, the plaintiff appealed and the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the City of Newport could not hide behind this long-standing shield. A subsequent appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court was denied even a hearing, allowing the lawsuit judgement against the City of Newport to stand.

Since the last hearing was denied, CIS Oregon – the insurance provider for regional cities – has advised local municipalities to close trails that require work on them or have safety issues. Some have taken this to heart, while most regions around Oregon believe the legislature will clear up the issue.

None of the trails closed are very well known, but that could change.

The most high-profile closure is at Short Beach near Oceanside, and that's luckily not very high in profile: it's still a rather secret spot on the north Oregon coast. Access is via a long set of stairs that were built here by a neighborhood effort in the early 2000s.

Whatever real or perceived flaws may be at the Short Beach access now, it is an immeasurably safer access than the slippery hill that was the only way in for decades. That caused real and somewhat regular injuries, with fractures and head wounds being not uncommon.

Also closed in Oceanside by the county is the Tire Trail, an obscure walk made from tires that wanders eastward and crosses Baughman Creek.

Tillamook County also closed the Harborview Trail at Garibaldi, a short scenic walkway that treads along the Tillamook Bay between the crabbing dock / boathouse attraction (often known as Piers End) and the pair of docks at the tip of Garibaldi. (Also see Garibaldi Mystery Answered: Historic Boathouse in N. Oregon Coast's Tillamook Bay)


Nan Devlin, executive director of Explore Tillamook Coast, told Oregon Coast Beach Connection that more trails are being looked at for closure.

In Waldport, the John Maré Woodland Trail is shut down – a deep-forest walk that starts on the eastern side of Highway 101 and continues that direction. Close to Alsea Bay, off a neighborhood street, there's the Waziyata Trail and beach access, which has also been closed.

Officials in Bandon, Coos Bay and Yachats said no trails in those areas are affected.

No State Park trails are closed, either.

“No state park trails have closed as a result of the ongoing suit or the court of appeals ruling,” said Oregon State Parks and Recreations Department's Chris Havel. “We do close trails for maintenance and other reasons, and sometimes a trail will have downed limbs and trees, especially after a winter storm, even though it hasn’t been marked closed. Pay attention to your surroundings and conditions, and dress for the weather, any time you’re out enjoying a walk.”

In the meantime, CIS has advised municipalities to perhaps even ask visitors to sign waivers.

The legislature is likely to revisit the idea of recreational immunity in February, and most recreational entities are not too worried about the rule's future. All seem to agree, however, that if state officials do not fully address this issue it could mean a rash of trail closures not just on the Oregon coast but elsewhere in the state.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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