PENINSULA - According to the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), the area from Nahcotta north to the tip of Leadbetter Point is North Beach Peninsula. According to the same federal source, the Long Beach Peninsula literally is not on the map.
Tom Downer of Ocean Park submitted an application on March 15 to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) to officially name the area that makes up the Ocean Beach School District as Cape Columbia.
Local residents have argued for many years about the "true" name of this peninsula. An editorial by Paul Merz in the July 17, 1991 issue of the Chinook Observer explained the debate at the time.
"Take a trip to the Visitors' Bureau ... and you'll see plenty of pamphlets ... extolling the virtues of a place called the Long Beach Peninsula," wrote Merz. "Drive anywhere north of Pioneer Road, however, and you're as likely as not to hear people singing another song. To them, it is and always will be, the North Beach Peninsula."
Downer is quick to point out he is not interested in renaming anything. He merely wants to give an official name to an area that has not been recognized as having a name.
"Neither North Beach or Long Beach are incorrect," said Downer. "They are both used by us, but at least North Beach Peninsula shows up on some maps."
It is true the name "Long Beach Peninsula" cannot be found on most maps including the map that hangs in the window of the Pioneer Market. The Long Beach Peninsula's Visitors Bureau uses the name for promotional reasons, but the name is anything but official.
According to USGS Web site, the southern boundary of the North Beach Peninsula runs directly beneath a pile of oyster shells in Nahcotta. The northern boundary is just north of Leadbetter Point in Willapa Bay.
Technically speaking, the city of Long Beach is not on the North Beach Peninsula - but neither is Ocean Park. And according to Random House, by definition, the North Beach Peninsula might not be a peninsula at all - it is a cape, however.
"The point of this is not to bring out bad feelings," said Downer in his second-floor office overlooking the inside of Jack's Country store. "Because of the school district, we are bound socially, economically, geographically, culturally and historically. The area should be able to be found on a map."
Downer said the name Cape Columbia names the area for what it is - a cape created by the merging of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. The new name would also resolve old conflicts and recognize common goals by not distinguishing any separate community.
He might have a tough time of it, said Roger Payne, executive secretary of the BGN. The new name can become official only after it is approved by the BGN, and by design the process takes a minimum of four months ... or perhaps much longer. Payne said his office would not take any action until the Washington State Board makes a decision on geographic names.
"If it turns into an big deal, we will need public input," said Payne via telephone from his office in Reston, Va. "We would want to hear from the county and incorporated cities as well as get public input. The most important thing is what the majority of the local people want," he said. "That message should come from the [Pacific County] board of commissioners."
A representative from the Washington State Board on Geographic Names could not be reached for comment.
Bud Cuffel, Pacific County commissioner, said the board of commissioners has other things to deal with at the moment, but has taken a cursory look at the issue.
"The way I understand it, it is just an overlay on top of what is already there, and I've got no problem with that," said Cuffel. "I have discussed this a little with the other commissioners, and they thought maybe we should just stay neutral."
Some of the things the board looks at when deciding on the name of a place are: established, historical and legal usage (see below) which give a better idea of how Cape Columbia does or does not meet these criteria.
One way the name Cape Columbia could be given to the area is if communities and groups such as the cities of Long Beach and Ilwaco agree to use the name. Another way is any legal documentation. The pages of the Chinook Observer have often refrained from using the term Long Beach Peninsula, using just the term Peninsula or Discovery Coast when referring to the area.
"From a marketing standpoint Cape Columbia is a terrible name," said Ilwaco Mayor Ed Leonard. "We should do what the consensus of the businesses and residents want. The issue is well raised, now let's think about this and see if it catches on."
When asked if he thought it was premature to apply for a name change, Leonard said "No. That is how these things get started."
Long Beach Mayor Ken Ramsey agreed with Leonard when it comes to getting the public involved, but felt Downer might be rushing the issue.
"I think it was premature to apply for the name without some discussion," said Ramsey. "I'm not against the idea, but let's talk to the merchants and the public before we make a decision. We have to listen to the community on these things."
Una Boyle, director of the currently named Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, said a public forum to talk about the issue would be planned for the near future, but a time and location of the event will not be announced before next week.
As for Downer, the name Cape Columbia is not something he feels needs to be set in stone just yet. He has purchased the rights to the Web sites capecolumbia.com and capecolumbia.org, but Downer said that was done to protect those sites from anyone that would try to sell them back to the community for a profit.
"I'm open to other suggestions, but the name seems to fit in my mind. It describes what we are and where we are," said Downer. "I do have rights to those URLs, but if this goes forward, I will gladly turn them over to the visitors' bureau or whoever."
Cape: A piece of land jutting into the sea or some other large body of water.
Peninsula: An area of land almost completely surrounded by water except for an isthmus connecting it with the main land.
Isthmus: A narrow strip of land bordered on both sides by water.
-Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary