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Monday, August 18, 2008

If Square States Had Oceans, They’d Do This

posted by on August 18 at 11:00 AM


This weekend, after a previously planned out-of-town trip for a story fell through, I decided to take a road trip to Ocean Shores.

(And here, within the snug confines of these parentheses, I will go a little bit LiveJournal on your ass. The topic of conversation will continue after this self-indulgent break: Having grown up in Maine, I’m fond of cheesy, touristy beach communities, because they remind me of home. The trip itself was kind of difficult. After four hours in traffic, I finally arrived: it was 50 degrees and foggy with light rain. The next morning, it was so foggy that you couldn’t see further than thirty feet in any direction, which made for a pleasant, though weirdly apocalyptic, walk on the beach. The fog did not stop me from getting a very bad sunburn. The end.)

My question is this: How the fuck is it still legal to drive cars on beaches in Washington state? Or, to be more specific: why are beaches considered part of the highway system, with a 25-mile-an-hour speed limit? This is just a bad idea. Besides the fact that people drink at the beach, and that people tend to, you know, take naps on blankets at the beach, cars also leak all kinds of horrible fluids. Is there a powerful beach-driving lobby in Washington? Will people get pissed if they can’t drive on beaches anymore?

There are lots of states where you can’t drive on beaches—I’m from one—and never have I heard any variation of “You know, this beach experience would be so much better if I could park my fucking Hummer right next to me while I tan and drink beer out of a cooler in back.” It seems like banning cars from public beaches is a really simple, really non-controversial environmental law that should’ve been passed ages ago.

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It's not like you can drive on every beach, many beaches are so long and have so few access points, like long beach for example, that driving is the only way to get to certain areas. If you spent enough time vacationing in these areas you would understand that no one gets run over and cars are always very courteous, and really, not very many drive on the beach. I like that you went to visit once and are like WTFOMGSTOPITNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When people who have been going there for years or who live there think you are a moron.

Posted by J | August 18, 2008 11:24 AM

The fact that Ocean Shores hasn't been destroyed by a tidal wave is proof that God is a redneck.

Posted by DOUG. | August 18, 2008 11:31 AM

@2: Wow. I can only imagine what you think about Forks, WA.

Posted by raindrop | August 18, 2008 11:39 AM

The reason: the mouth of the Columbia River needs to be dredged just about 24/7. Otherwise, the shipping ports, barge traffic, etc. of Portland, Tri-Cities, etc. would become closed to the ocean. (BTW... the mouthof the Columbia has a WICKED sandbar that is THE most dangerous sand bar in the US to navigate/sail over)
The result of the 24/7'ish dredging: the sand that is being dredged from the mouth of the Columbia is shipped just a short distance into the open ocean and then dumped. Ever hear or notice the rip current off the coast of Long Beach? That current brings all the dredge sand back to land. That dredged sand is Long Beach. Long Beach is pretty much a man made beach.

The state allows driving only on select beaches, because, well, the cars are not destroying anything naturally enviromental. Long Beach is pretty much an artifical beach, thanks to the need to keep the Columbia River open to barge/shipping traffic.

Posted by Phenics | August 18, 2008 11:41 AM
Posted by familiar | August 18, 2008 11:44 AM

Those are interesting explainations, but it is still pretty weird that beach driving is allowed...that was one of two things that made me wonder about the sanity of Washington when I moved here...the other was the concept of the state owning and operating the liquor stores.

Posted by michael strangeways | August 18, 2008 11:46 AM

I second @1's comment. Furthermore, I'd like to point out that driving on sand is not for the unskilled. People who don't know what they're doing (or don't know a particular beach very well) will end up destroying their cars. This puts a natural limit on the number of people willing to try.

I can't say about Maine, but I know it is still legal to drive (with a permit) on the National Seashore on Cape Cod in Mass. Not a lot of people do it, because it costs $ and you can be shit out of luck if a Piping Plover builds a nest on your beach (causing the beach to be closed by the EPA). But if you want to get to the way, way, off the road dunes, that's pretty much the only way to do it.

Posted by Providence | August 18, 2008 11:47 AM

After spending many summers in Daytona Beach, Florida when I was a kid, I never want to be on a beach with cars again in my life.

Posted by Ryan on Summit | August 18, 2008 11:59 AM

I agree that driving cars on the beach is completely insane, but it's a Washington tradition and will never go away. "Non-controversial"? Not on your life.

Posted by Fnarf | August 18, 2008 12:03 PM

I also grew up around cheesy, touristy beach communities in Maine (and Massachusetts) and if you want that kind of ambiance, you have to head down to the Cannon Beach/Seaside area in Oregon. There's nothing like that, or a decent beach at all, in Washington State.

Posted by Just Sayin' | August 18, 2008 12:05 PM

@3: I like Forks. The beaches near there are carless and lovely.

Posted by DOUG. | August 18, 2008 12:15 PM

@5: That is weird, that Seattlest Tom and I headed to Ocean Shores at the same time. I've never met him and I didn't read that post until you posted it.

@1: I've been to the coast at least once a year for the last 8 years and I still can't believe that they allow cars on the beach. It's stupid.

Posted by Paul Constant | August 18, 2008 12:16 PM

They allow cars on beaches in Washington? Since when?

Posted by Greg | August 18, 2008 12:19 PM

The legislature did stop it. Some schmuck collected signatures and the people decided to kill it.

Posted by Algernon | August 18, 2008 12:27 PM

I'm no fan of driving on the beach, but to elaborate on commenter #1's point, beaches were once the only way to access a place by car. For example, the road from Anchorage to the scenic outpost of Homer, Alaska, wasn't completed until 1950. Before that, if you wanted to drive to Homer, you consulted a tide table and headed for the beach. I don't know if there are still places in Washington that are only vehicle-accessible by beach, but for quite a few places in Alaska, this is still the case.

Posted by Kalakalot | August 18, 2008 12:30 PM

I think that this has a lot to do with the increased revenue for local law enforcement (who ticket, ticket, ticket all along the beaches) and local businesses who tow out the broken/flooded cars.

Just sayin.

Posted by wisepunk | August 18, 2008 12:34 PM

I remember about 6 or 7 years ago some idiot driving his car on the beach plowed through a flock of seabirds, several times, for a kick. He killed over 100 birds. When the police stopped him, he had several bird carcasses embedded in the grill of his car.

This brought up the debate about cars on beaches. A push was made for a ban on beach driving. I remember people on the coast were pretty passionate about this "tradition," and about city-folk messing in business they knew nothing about, etc. Eventually it all died down with nothing happening.

Posted by Lark Hawk | August 18, 2008 12:42 PM

Oops, that was 11 years ago. Here's a link to an old PI story.

Posted by Lark Hawk | August 18, 2008 12:46 PM

WA state declared our waterways part of the state highway system so that the state can apply federal funding for the ferry system. One of the quirks of that declaration is that you have to allow cars on beaches because, hey, if its a highway, you have to let cars on it.

Posted by Collin | August 18, 2008 12:54 PM

I wish people like Fenix at #4 would do some reading before spouting off.

Yes, the Columbia is dredged constantly, but the simple fact of the matter is that the river was ejecting enormous amounts of sediment long before the dredging began. Long Beach (and Willapa bay behind it) has been there for millennia, as a little bit of reading in history or geology would quickly confirm.

A little more reading in geology or civil engineering or local policy debate would reveal that most experts agree that the dredging actually contributes to the erosion of beaches north of the mouth of the Columbia.

And as someone else has pointed out, explaining why the beach is there (or no longer there, as in big sections between Westport and Tokeland) does absolutely nothing to explain why people are allowed to drive on it.

Posted by robotslave | August 18, 2008 1:04 PM

I went to Ocean Shores once. Arrived in the evening, checked into my cabin, walked over the dunes onto the beach the next morning and saw about fifty cars on the sand. I turned around and never went back.
The only other time I've seen a vehicle (not belonging to a Park Ranger) on the beach, it was a big, shiny pickup truck with those rubber testicles hanging off the hitch. Its owner managed to get stuck and the tide was coming in. People had been trying to free it for two hours. It was tough keeping the grin off my face.

Posted by bemaha | August 18, 2008 1:15 PM

So THAT'S what happened to Flock of Seagulls?! I thought they had Ran...they ran so far awayyy....

Posted by Cattymaran | August 18, 2008 1:18 PM

robotslave: grow up before flaming yer fucking mouth off. have some civility, fuck-tard.

this is the year 2008. the sand at Long Beach WA is not washing away due to natural environmental factors because the dredging/deposits are renewing the beach. FACT.

Up the shore, in westport/tokeland/washaway-beach, the beaches are not being renewed because they are UP THE SHORE. The current which created the beaches north of willapa bay are not renewing the beaches as of August 18, 2008 at the same rate the currents were renewing those, north of willapa bay beaches, at the same rate it was on say August 18, 1808. Why?

geo 101: pre-dredging years the sand and silt from the columbia hugged the coast within the currents of the salt water pacific and freshwater Columbia River. The sand and silt was not dispersed. in our currently-2008-dredging system, the sand and silt are moved, by humans, to a point farther from shore. the sand and silt, when removed from the coast, is more dispersed, and therefore, not being deposited on the shoreline at the same rate it was, say 200 years ago.

The question is why are vehicles allowed on Long Beach WA (and no other washington beaches) and (second part) what human factors contribute to the state of affairs. Because the powers that be do not feel that vehicles on that beach are destroying anything that humans did not create in the first place.

Until the dredging is stopped (and it won't) the beaches of Tokeland will not renew like it was 200 years ago.

Robotslave: here is some reading for ya:

on that map I gave you, notice that Long Beach WA is not an erosion zone, for the reasons (and a few others) that I talk about.

Posted by Phenics | August 18, 2008 1:59 PM

Noncontroversial? Are you fucking insane? Do you know NOTHING about that area?

I have been going to Long Beach for years. The locals there would start a shooting war if driving on the beaches was banned.

I'm not taking their side. I'd as soon see it banned. I'm just telling you it's anything BUT noncontroversial.

Posted by ivan | August 18, 2008 2:08 PM

I grew up in Westport and learned to drive on the beach. Theres nothing better than throwing like 4 kids and a couple dogs in the back of a pick up and driving down to the beach to go clam-digging. I can't imagine someone from Maine would understand. As for the people on beach towels problem. I can't think of any reason anyone would ever lay down on a towel on a Washington Coast beach.

Posted by Tostina | August 18, 2008 2:15 PM

While it's illegal to drive on clam beds, there are a number of reasons cars are allowed on beaches besides general convenience - lack of proportional access roads, accessibility for the old and handicapped, and to facilitate equipment-laden clam diggers. Environmental effects are negligible (the beach is washed and smoothed twice a day)- although it's often the people without cars, who wish not to walk back with their trash, who sully the good sand.

The beach also has its own way of taming the car abusers who - driving too fast or below the tide line - end up stuck in sand or finding their car eventually rusting away from too much salt water.If you get to know our coast you'll be able to find car-less beaches easily - above Moclips, for example.

Still, as someone who grew up on the coast - when Ocean Shores was a glimmer in Ginny Sims' eye, a gray, wild stretch known as both the Maynard Ranch and Oyehut - I'll concede that, as beach popularity grows, the day will likely come when cars will have to be banned from congested beachheads such as OS. Luckily I've seen the best of it.

Posted by Beachcomber | August 18, 2008 2:18 PM

Just remember to air down your tires first, you'll be fine.

Posted by jackie treehorn | August 18, 2008 2:23 PM

But... the beach at Ocean Shores is freaking huge compared to New England beaches. You could build two aircraft carriers on the beach at Ocean Shores and still have room for all the kite flyers and RVers that hang out there.

It was weird to be driving on a beach, but it was also obvious that ad-hoc "streets" develop fairly quickly.

OT, as a Nuwinglinda, my favorite shameless ripoff in Ocean Shores is the Nantucket Square shopping plaza.

Posted by K | August 18, 2008 2:27 PM

Some of my best times have been driving on the beach with a truck fulla buds, surfboards, dogs, and beer hunting down sand bars that are breaking right.
There are some assholes that treat driving on the beach like a no mans land, as if an SUV can protect you from any hazards out there, but most locals at any beach such as this drive slow, and show respect for others.
Making a blanket statement for banning this is exactly what 17 says about city folk being out of their element. Live in one of these areas for a while and you will have a whole different take.

Another reason about driving on some beaches vs others stems from property laws. In some states beachfront homeowners own property right down to the water. In other states, the beach is public domain.

Oh yeah, other than all that, driving on Daytona beach is for tools anyway.

Posted by Fortuna Mandolin | August 18, 2008 3:58 PM

We do lots of stupd shit here in Washington state. To show we are different.

The more you compare us to the rest of the world, the more we firmly grasp our own unique way of doing things. Just because it makes us unique.

It has nothing to do with what makes sense. We take pride in our comatose ignorance and stupor, by calling it uniqueness.

Don't you get it by now? that you don't just proves you are not one of us.

Posted by Lars Nativson | August 18, 2008 4:02 PM

Let me shorten this post up in one paragraph.

"Oh my god! I DROVE four hours to Ocean Shores to be on MY own private beach getaway and then I get there only to witness that there were actual CARS driving on MY own private beach getaway."

Here's a tip: Get off the hill more often so you don't sound like a hypocritical jackass next time you post something that relates to an area outside of that little bubble you call Seattle/Capital Hill...

Posted by Shut up you fucking baby! | August 18, 2008 4:09 PM

Let me shorten 31 to one sentence:

"Let me distill a post to a single snarky thought, so as to better facilitate me being a huge douchebag without actually addressing any of the valid points that I ignored."

Posted by Chris in Tampa | August 18, 2008 4:47 PM

@25 ... careful when being all acusatory with Mainers and driving on the beach. For starters, Maine is very big and most of it is VERY VERY rural. It's more like Washington and Oregon than you might realize.

Maine also has very very little beach, it's mostly rocks and cliffs.

what beach maine DOES have is endangered. Beach errosion is BAD BAD BAD BAD in New England.

Posted by OR Matt | August 18, 2008 5:48 PM

Ever take one of the Ilwaco charters out into the mouth? Nice time, a swell of a time, crossing over the bar. And driving out onto the sand, getting a setup around high tide line, then kick back, crack one open, set the kite up-high, and watching the surf till your all sure it's time to head back is a nice time too.

While we are on the subject of dredging the Columbia River, which, ya know, is of such international concern (what you think wheat, apples or nebraska corn feed beef is going to ship itself to Shanghai, Osaka or wherever by itself? Ports of Seattle and Tacoma can only do so much) oh, yeah, the dredging WILL happen. Left-wing or Right-wing, R or D, it has and will continue to happen. That debate was over a long time ago. The public gets this:

but the silt from eastern washington farm land has to go somewhere, and it sure as fuck can not be sent north into a marine sanctuary. And, well, the Oregon Coast side of the project does not want it dumped on it either.

But Washaway Beach (But I hope not Tokeland cause of this gem: aka: seem to be written off by the powers that be. It's an interesting case study for progressive political compromise, if not other topics as well. But that corn isn't going to ship itself, now is it?

Just something fun to think about the next time you are out and about enjoying the Washington Coast. That's what us local folks like about our state, you can hike in a national wonder and see some incredible sites and sights of nature, or you can drive out and picnic on a product, almost an ecological nightmare or dream memorial to the demands to support the Local NW, Regional and US economies. There is something for everyone, or not. just stay in Seattle for your ecological nightmare or dream memorial.
Washington. Accept it, or go back to where you really want to be.

ok, fine. /soapbox

Posted by Phenics | August 18, 2008 6:18 PM

After not having been out to the WA coast in several years, I went to Ocean Shores 3 months ago. The ocean water was an unnaturally muddy brown with yellowish foam, and the sand was also not a normal color-- and actually created a burning sensation on my friend's bare feet! When the sand dried on my shoes, it was dark green and smelled like something rotten. It was absolutely disgusting. While I am all for making beaches more accessible to the disabled, etc, there seems to be a visible ecological impact in allowing cars to be driven on the beach. Which concerns everyone--whether you are pro-beach-driving or not.

Posted by Iagreewithpaul | August 18, 2008 8:13 PM

@35 you are a dumbass. Turbidity of the water has nothing to do with cars driving on the beach there. Same with the foam content, a derivative of salinity levels or other oceanographic characteristics. Sometimes this is natural, and the result of industrial pollution or stormwater runoff- not cars driving on the beach. Your friends feet probably burn from too much toe fucking.

Posted by Black Adam | August 18, 2008 9:02 PM

Hey "Fenix," I love how your argument went from "Long Beach is man-made" to "Long Beach is not being eroded by dredging, though of course quite a lot of other beaches are."

Nice, guy. Real honest debate, there.

Not hard to figure out where your parents live, either.

Anyway, it should be really, really fucking clear to you at this point that having a bone to pick with the Columbia dredging project does not equip you well, or at all, to make arguments about driving cars on public beaches.

Posted by robotslave | August 19, 2008 1:39 AM

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