Where We Live: Oregon’s public beaches

Oregon's longest state park is its 362 miles of public beaches

The sunset on October 10, 2016 seen from Indian Beach on the Oregon Coast. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — We take it for granted that we can go anywhere on the Oregon Coast — the beaches are open for everyone to walk along, but that wouldn’t be the case if the legislature didn’t pass the beach bill 50 years ago.

Jan and Jack McGowan co-wrote "The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other" about the history of Oregon's public beaches. (KOIN)
Jan and Jack McGowan co-wrote “The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other” about the history of Oregon’s public beaches. (KOIN)

A just-published book celebrates the anniversary, July 6, 1967, and the coast that helps define where we live. The book “The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other,” chronicles the legacy with breathtaking photos of the coast.

Oregon’s longest state park is its 362 miles of public, accessible beaches.

“We’re the only state in the continental U.S. that can say all of our beaches are public,” Seth Miller with the Oregon State Parks Foundation said. “There are no fences, no ‘no trespassing’ signs and everybody can go.”

That almost wasn’t the case. In 1966, Governor Tom McCall got into a battle with a hotel owner on the northern coast who wanted to put up a fence and make the beach in front of his property private.

“The governor came in with a helicopter, TV crews and said basically to all Oregonians ‘Is this the way you want our beaches to be?’ And the answer was a resounding ‘no,'” Miller said.

Jan and Jack McGowan co-wrote "The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other" about the history of Oregon's public beaches. (Davidge Photography via "The Oregon Coast")
Jan and Jack McGowan co-wrote “The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other” about the history of Oregon’s public beaches. (Davidge Photography via “The Oregon Coast”)

The legislature passed the beach bill a short time later, but the stage was set decades before. In 1913, then-Oregon Governor Oswald West convinced the legislature to designate the wet part of Oregon’s beaches as a public highway, well before Highway 101. That put the beaches under state control.

During McCall’s era, state parks Director Samuel Boardman mandated that coastal state parks be no further than 3 miles apart, guaranteeing public access to the beach.

Keeping Oregon beaches away from private developers has been an economic driver through tourism. Last year, 28 million people visited the Oregon coast. By contrast, 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon.

The authors of “The Oregon Coast: A Legacy Like No Other,” are Jack McGowan and his wife Jan, who ran SOLVE for many years and started the annual beach cleanups.

“We cannot take Oregon for granted,” Jack said. “The day we take this state for granted is the day we will start losing it.”

Families flock to the coast on a hot weekend. (KOIN)