“I have been fearful watching little ones and pets running through the cars to get to the water.”
— Tillamook County survey respondent
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) and Tillamook County limited the use of cars and trucks on the beach between Cape Kiwanda and the Nestucca river over the summer. Now OPRD has taken an official step toward making some of those restrictions permanent.
The restrictions have been in place since July 1st and came in response to an increase in vehicle traffic on the beach during sunny summer weekends. In a memo (PDF) from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission dated November 17th, OPRD Policy Manager Katie Gauthier wrote: “On a sunny summer day, hundreds of vehicles enter the beach… The change was made to address increased congestion on the beach posing a health and safety risk to pedestrians, and reduced OPRD state park ranger staffing available to manage the traffic.”
Parks Department staff want to open the issue up to public comment and have made a formal request to open the rulemaking process to amend Oregon Administrative Rule 736-024-0015 (Division 24 Tillamook County, Vehicles and Aircraft Restrictions on Ocean Shore). Specifically, the are proposing to prohibit driving on four sections of the beach between Sand Lake / Tierra Del Mar and just south of Nestucca Bay (see images below or full proposal map here).
The changes have already been met with widespread disagreement.
Last month, the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners received 882 survey responses and 114 emails and letters in response to a yes/no question on the issue. 300 survey respondents support more driving restrictions, while 582 oppose them. Interestingly, of the 300 who want fewer drivers on the beach, 77% (230) were locals (Tillamook County residents). Of those who oppose the restrictions, only 47% were local.
“Stop taking away our freedoms.”
— Tillamook County survey respondent
Some people in favor of driving on the beach site disabilities and access issues as well as a general sense of loss of privileges. “Stop taking away our freedoms,” wrote one commenter. Another person wrote: “Been driving on the beach for my entire life and have some amazing memories with friends and family doing so. Even using the beach as a highway at one point in time hasn’t caused any significant damage or problems of any kind to the beach. Leave the beach open [to cars].”
People who want fewer cars on the beach cite public safety and environmental reasons. One commenter who said they’ve lived in Pacific City for 14 years has seen the number of vehicles skyrocket. “Every time I have been on the beach with vehicles, I have been fearful watching little ones and pets running through the cars to get to the water,” the wrote. “I have seen many ‘near misses’. Many of the drivers have been drinking or are just out to have fun and are not as careful as they should be as they navigate the lines of cars. The beach should be a restful area. It is also an area that supports marine life that is important to our planet.”
Another local resident said how much they’ve enjoyed the beach over the summer while temporary restrictions have been in place. “More locals and visitors, especially children, had the freedom to enjoy themselves without the fear of needing to constantly watch for vehicles.”
Oregon has allowed people to drive cars on beaches since the early 1900s when the hard-packed sand was the only way to get from place-to-place. That changed around 1910 when the state started selling chunks of the coast to private beach resort owners who walled off some sections. State leaders vowed to return the beach to the public and realized that it would be easier to exercise eminent domain if the beach was officially designated as a highway. Today driving is allowed on just a handful of locations. Tillamook County beach driving rules haven’t changed since 1992.
OPRD has assembled a Rule Advisory Committee that will meet December 7th to review and discuss the proposed changes. The meeting starts at 1:00 pm and can be viewed on YouTube.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pacific City near the Cape is such a mess in the summer. I’m surprised they haven’t had more injuries. Everyone wants to drive their AWD/4×4 in the sand, and you see them getting stuck all day long on the busier days. There are very few disabilities that would prevent someone from walking or rolling down the concrete ramp at this beach, and I’ve definitely never seen an Access van on the beach offloading someone in a wheelchair…
It seems like some people have a phobia of being more than 20 or 30 feet from an automobile at any point in their life. Can’t we just fill the parking lot of some abandoned mall with sand and let the auto addicted drive around there?
Those who still want to drive on sand can head a few minutes up the coast to Sand Lake, or down to Florence.
I’d hate to see people with mobility disabilities lose access to the beach: could car access be limited to vehicles with Disabled Parking permits?
While I also do not wish for mobility disable citizens to lose access, is there not a way to maintain access that does not require their vehicle to physically be on the sand? Are ramps down to the beech at the access point parking lots (assuming adequate handicap parking) problematic for these members of our community? From my experience most beach access points are stairs only so we should absolutely be pushing for the building of more ramps, but I don’t think that non-disabled drivers would ever abide by that if they see other cars out on the beach even if those cars do have the permit. At that point it would be up to enforcement, which is its own giant can of worms.
Me too. But since cars are so incompatible with beaches and people (let’s not lose sight of that and the fact that they are only allowed due to a weird historic legal quirk that would never fly today), perhaps it makes more sense to provide access for people with disabilities that doesn’t create public safety and environmental problems.
For instance when I was in Cabo San Lucas Mexico last year I came across a beach that was walk-in only. It has a very nice wooden ramp with these amazing spots right on the sand for wheelchair users:
Just a reminder that the ‘weird legal quirk’ is why all Oregon beaches are publicly owned today. Without it, we would have begun losing access in the ’60s and ’70s.
The Oregon coast was declared a highway a very long time ago, allowing the state to reserve it for public use and preventing any landowner from claiming the beach. Even today, all of the Oregon coast is publicly accessible – none of it is private. This is in contrast to every other state in the US.
Beaches can not be private in Hawaii as well.
Check out kooksofthecape on instagram for some pacific city vehicular fail entertainment:
Oh now that is pure gold. Thank you for sharing.
My wife and I visited Pacific City a couple of years ago as a potential wedding location. While walking on the beach, the seemingly drunk driver of a large truck behind us objected to our walking speed. He revved his engine and even accelerated hard and then braked to try and scare us. Needless to say, we did not get married there and have not returned. I object to cars on the public beach because it’s a place that without question should be pedestrian oriented. However, there are a huge number of people with different cultural expectations (cars!) and there are other beaches. Now we mostly go to Manzanita, and I appreciate the quieter vibe and lack of cars on the beach. This self-sorting is exactly what’s happening in our country, for better or worse.
I’ve seen a guy in a new Subaru drive halfway up that sand mountain at Pacific City. The part where people are mostly hiking.
But the Cape itself is a gem, and really unique on the northern Oregon coast. Is it too much to ask that the 100ft of beach between the ramp and the Cape be car-free?
People with trucks, AWD cars and dune buggies can always go south to Florence and hit the dunes there.
The tow truck lobby (aka the 3 people on the coast that own tow trucks) are gonna fight the hell out of this!! Watching idiots get stuck in the sand and then stressed out by the incoming tide is better people watching than watching fellow weekend warrior surfers get tossed by the surf. Maybe for Pac City make it for the dory boaters only!
It blew me away when I first moved to Oregon that this is allowed in the 21st century, in a relatively environmentally friendly state, no less. I specifically avoid any beaches that allow cars when I head to the Coast.
I absolutely HATE vehicles on the beach. I’ve ridden on the Discovery Trail up in Long Beach a couple of times and the worst part is all the assholes in big trucks cruising the beach while we are trying to have a picnic or let the kids play mid ride. Of all the places to be scared of getting hit by a car, the beach should not be one.
I walked on the beach there for a bit, then we got sick of the traffic so we walked back on the discovery trail. Then we kept getting passed by old folks whizzing by on ebikes! I’ll take the ebikes over pickups idling along. I think it’s just bored people. Vehicles would drive way down the beach, turn around, and drive back. It’s one thing to drive down the beach and hang out/fish/surf/picnic/turn the engine off. It’s another to just drive around ‘cause it’s there. I’d rather have quiet stretches of car free beach.
Every time I hear people argue to keep motorized access to beaches or wild land trails out of their great concern for ADA access, my BS alert starts pinging. Ever seen one of these people lift a finger to help actual people with mobility issues? Have these advocates shown up to fund sidewalk ramps or force businesses to improve access?
They should just be honest: they want to drive on the beach because they enjoy it, and because they hate it when the government tells them what to do.
Besides, and Jonathan pointed out, ADA access is easily accommodated.
I rode my bike around the three capes loop last spring and was blown away at the number of vehicles lining the road along this section of the coast, even with the pandemic raging. I suspect that many of the vehicles on the beach are there because the tiny parking lot at the Pelican cannot support the number of visitors. If you’ve spent hours in a car to get to the beach you aren’t going to give up and go home because the parking lot is full. It’s really entertaining watching car after car get towed out of the sand by the local tow truck while you sip a beer on the Pelican patio though.
There is plenty of free parking in the Safeway parking lot in Tillamook, I suggest parking there and riding to Pacific City. 😉
True, that is another big problem. There isn’t enough parking at any of the beach towns on the Oregon Coast. Someone needs to put in a few parking lots or better bus access from the cities to the beach.
Why build more car parking lots? To cover over invasive scotch broom?
Wife and I spent a weekend at Pacific City last year. Our room overlooked the beach and I spent a good part of the weekend (with binocs) watching big-tough rear wheel drive pickups get absolutely buried. Over and over and over… For most of the time, there was a park ranger at the end of the ramp. He had to turn away so many vehicles that had absolutely no business on the sand. Think low rider Honda Civics, etc… Instantly would have been stuck! Anyway, I also noticed at one point a person in a brand new Cadillac, with a handicap placard, got absolutely buried near the water. Now what? Naturally, being handicapped they had no way of getting themselves out. The people really were working together, as at one point there might have been a dozen vehicles simultaneously stuck and needing assistance. It was Gold Jerry, Gold!
As long as as automakers keep showing car commercials with cars driving on the beach (I even remember some really irresponsible ones showing cars driving a little bit into the surf), people will want to drive on the beach. Time to stop glamorizing it (and I say this as someone who has driven on Long Beach, WA, though not this century).
This is one of those situations where there are simply too many people to make it feasible to mix cars in there safely. We’ve done it in the past, but after visiting last year the number of cars that got stuck in the sand blocking the exit became an issue. If there were far fewer people it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Sadly, this seems to be the case everywhere in Oregon – too many people are spoiling what we have.
It’s great to see examples of land stewardship in law. Readers may enjoy this link:
Loved driving the camper near Pacific Beach. Immediately to the left of where we entered, driving on the beach was prohibited, but to the north, it wasn’t. So people can quit bitching about people driving on the beach. Just literally walk 100 feet to the south where vehicles aren’t allowed.
The only automobiles allowed on the beach to the south of Cape Kiwanda are those of people going fishing in a boat. I once saw a punk drive a Subaru Forester about halfway up the south side of Cape Kiwanda around 2013. People are still driving trucks and SUVs north of the spring and summer boundary in Tierra Del Mar, Oregon. There is a high cost for free car parking and it now costs money to park an automobile by the county-owned car parking lot by the Pelican Pub.