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Coast Chronicles: Our Beach, Our Fourth

By Cate Gable

Observer columnist

Published on July 11, 2017 2:24PM

Last changed on July 12, 2017 10:07AM

Vicki Vanneman, a volunteer for the Grassroots Garbage Gang and a member of the “Not a Ban, a Better Plan” committee, hands out garbage bags and information at the Ocean Park beach approach on July 4.


Vicki Vanneman, a volunteer for the Grassroots Garbage Gang and a member of the “Not a Ban, a Better Plan” committee, hands out garbage bags and information at the Ocean Park beach approach on July 4.

In the old days

When I was a kid and the family traveled to the Peninsula in the 1950s, we made sure our summer vacation coincided with the Fourth of July. In those days the beach was totally different. The sea was closer in because there was less accreted land, and the sand rolled smoothly from the last row of houses right to the shore, dune after dune after dune. Some dunes were so large and steep that we kids would jump off and roll down or scrounge a piece of cardboard for dune surfing.

Now grasses have changed the ecosystem. As Kathleen Sayce writes, “The original West Coast planting of European beach grass was in what became Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco in the 1850s. It snuck up on the coast from the ‘30s forward — by 1900 plants had spread sporadically from there to Vancouver Island. Then in the 1930s-60s, European beach grass and American beach grass were planted on Clatsop Plains to stabilize the sand that came onshore following jetty construction. They were also planted down the coast in Oregon for dune stabilization, and seeds came north and established on Washington beaches.”

“Native grasses and wildflowers were still in the swale between that dune and the new dunes to the west. Both beach grasses were starting to fill in the open sand in the outer dunes. From the ‘60s forward, the beach grasses grew west with great increases in density, and pines spread west just behind them thanks to fire suppression.”

When I returned to live full-time on the Peninsula 15 years ago, there were other changes I noticed. I took for granted as a kid that there would always be driftwood everywhere on the beach, scattered like the bony remnants of ancient animals: huge sprawling branch systems, planks, ship timbers with iron still attached, enormous roots. Now we just have these little meager wood chunks. In the “old days,” with an hour of dragging and high-level architectural cogitation, one could make a reasonable beach shack with walls, a roof, windows and even a front door. My first morning on the beach, I would start shack construction. Then at some time during our stay, I’d engineer the obligatory family hot dog roast at “my” shack, complete, of course, with gritty buns and a beautiful sunset.

For fireworks we had sparklers and “worms” that you lit on the sidewalk or on a stone. In more advanced years we had Roman candles, small firecrackers and bottle rockets which, yes, we launched from glass pop bottles. It was all very tame, and the beach was, for the most part, deserted. Long Beach was still a hidden treasure even to most Washingtonians. The beach was ours.

Everything’s different now

At any rate, here’s my point — everything’s different now. The Fourth of July has become an outsized monster. Oregon saw the writing on the wall and closed all their beaches to fireworks as early as 2008. As then ocean shores manager Jeff Farmer said, “The ban is intended to protect both visitors and natural resources. Fireworks can hurt people, cause wildfires, harm wildlife and create litter and debris.” This means of course that Oregonians and other inlanders now scramble up the coast to our little piece of paradise for Independence Day.

Before I go any further, I should say that I love fireworks, those artful displays of lights in the sky are magical. I know that many of us, like me, have childhood experiences of fireworks on our beach that we’d like to recreate for our children. And I understand that this weekend has become the year’s most-revered money-maker for local businesses.

What I don’t understand is simply the need for extreme noise, like the bomb-blasts produced by M-80 fireworks. (These, by the way, were actually invented to create fear, manufactured by the military in the last century to simulate artillery fire.) I don’t appreciate fireworks in a residential neighborhood where someone’s idea of a good time can infringe on another neighbor’s desire for a peaceful evening. I don’t see why we need a week of fireworks leading up to the Fourth, and yet another round on the day after. And I certainly don’t condone any of the irresponsible littering and refuse left on our beach after our visitors go home. I want to emphasize that most folks pick up after themselves, but it only takes a few ne’er-do-wells to ruin a party.

Not a Ban

This year, around 4 p.m. on July 4, Vicki Vanneman, one of the hardworking citizens who formed the group “Not a Ban, a Better Plan” (https://www.facebook.com/betterplanfireworks/), and I met at the Bay Avenue beach approach. (The “Not a Ban” group is responsible for bringing agencies and municipalities together two years ago. They rolled up their sleeves for some serious community problem solving on fireworks when local officials only pointed fingers, and — with the help of Washington State Parks folks — they’re still working to make neighborhoods safer and the beach cleaner.) We were both volunteering for the Grassroots Garbage Gang, doing some preventative measures prior to the cleanup on July 5 (www.facebook.com/GrassRootsGarbageGang). Magen Michaud, chair of the “Not a Ban” group, helped organize this effort.

Vicki and I handed out garbage bags to 450 carloads of folks entering our beach in Ocean Park. Most people were appreciative, friendly, and respectful — glad to get the information about the extremely high tide and more than understanding about the need to pack their garbage out.

In the early evening the day after the fireworks, my dog and I took one of my favorite walks on a small path through the grasses down to the beach. As I mounted the foredune and got my first glimpse of the ocean, I had that same thrill I remember as a kid — there it was, the mighty Pacific, wave after wave, spread out before me like a magical world of rolling silver. There was a misty fog between me and a backlit family group silhouetted just at the edge of the sea. The ocean was strewn with diamonds.

I walked closer to the waves — only a few cars passed on the hard beach sand — and I approached the family. In a baby carriage was a tiny 3-month-old. And in a frenzy of delight, a small boychild, maybe 2, stark naked, was running around with his mom following close behind. “He just started peeling off his clothes,” she said laughing. Grandma and Grandpa were there too — all of them visiting from Longview.

“We don’t get here often enough,” they said. “But maybe someday we can buy a lot for the kids.”


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