State of Oregon considers driving ban on some beaches to improve safety

Aerial image of Cape Kiwanda / Pacific City via Google Maps.

“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
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