Pacific County's relationship with the government of Washington state has long been complex, touchy, even adversarial. The hundred years' land conflict between the county and the state has included campaigns over accreted ocean front land, state lands offered for lease, the privilege of driving on the beach, and the development of state park lands. The fray over state parks is a fine example of the struggle.
It began innocently. "Washington trades trees for recreation in a swap that netted the state one of the largest salt water park sites on the West Coast," reported the Observer in September 1958. "The state received 1,154 acres of Leadbetter Point at the north end of Long Beach Peninsula. Adjacent public land will provide a 2,500 acre park site, the state parks director said last week. In exchange, the Simpson Logging Co. received 127 acres of timberland in Mason county." Both pieces of property had been appraised at $186,400. It was an even exchange.
At first, the Parks Commission mulled and then dismissed the idea of "a narrow ocean beach park more than 30 miles long." It would have "utilized the state's accreted beach lands and other properties along the ocean shore in Southwest Washington." Touchy point. The ownership of accreted lands had been through repeated wash and spin cycles of state and federal courts for years without true resolution.
In 1964 at a ceremony accepting 725 acres of Fort Canby on behalf of the state parks of Washington, State Parks Director Charles Odegaard said, "With this we will have a start on making Long Beach peninsula one of the Northwest's major recreation areas."
-May 13, 1966
The state set to thinking out what it would like to see made of Leadbetter Point and the Peninsula. The Long Beach Grange and the Oysterville Community Club, in October 1966, wrote resolutions requesting development of Leadbetter into a state park. Oysterville's statement favored development of the point "into a park with tourist accommodations and a game reserve for waterfowl."
In mid-November 1964, director Odegaard announced a ten-year, $12 million project to improve the entirety of the state's ocean beaches, from Moclips and the Columbia River.
That master plan included trailer waste-dumping stations, improvement of beach access roads, construction of more than 3,000 camp sites and 55 "comfort stations," all with the goal of serving more than 450,000 campers each years. The wish-list continued, mentioning aircraft landing strips next to the camping areas and day-use facilities built to accommodate 6 million visitors annually.
As part of the plan, the state asked that the "1967 Legislature change the status of beaches from 'public highway' to 'state park conservation areas' and transfer jurisdiction over the accreted tidal area to the State Parks Commission. (This would allow park employees to clean up beaches and police the driving of vehicles on beach areas.)"
That hit the local nerve hard. Many Peninsulans have always seen driving on the beach as a nearly-constitutional right, and anything that portends to interfere with that right is met with downright hostility.
The article in the following week's Observer began, "'The state is not trying to take your beach away. We just want to make it a better place to enjoy.' This assurance was given to Peninsula residents by Charles Odegaard, state parks director." Almost 100 Peninsulans had turned out for a local meeting of the State Parks Commission.
Some of the Parks' plans for the Peninsula were truly needed: "County Commissioner Eldred Penttila stated that the most pressing immediate need was for public restrooms. Too many people are crowding into restaurants and gas stations to use their restrooms, he stated, and the parks commission plans to erect comfort stations at both the Ocean Park and Long Beach approaches. They will also be designed to handle refuse from trailers and campers."
Dec. 9, 1966, the Aberdeen World reported that large delegations of residents and business people from South Beach, North Beach (Grayland), and Long Beach Peninsula were planning to attend the coming State Parks meeting "to protest the plans ... Petitions are now being circulated on both beaches asking that the 10-year plan be revised and that jurisdiction of beaches be left as established by the legislature in 1891, and not be transferred to state park control.
"The petitions ... further ask that the commission 'confine all state park camping facilities and expansion needs within the boundaries of centrally-located park sites; confine sanitary facilities to the parks and approach roads with no installations on the beach itself; consider recreational facilities that are beyond the ability of local business to provide, such as day picnic areas, playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, and other day use facilities, and to consider no program that would directly jeopardize private enterprise.' "
A week later the State Parks and Recreation Commission, not listening, approved a proposal to make all state-owned land along the seacoast a "state park conservation area."
"The endorsement followed a stormy hearing during which a number of Grays Harbor and Pacific county residents accused the commission of making a power grab to control the beaches and compete with private enterprise. ...
"The state's suggestion of 'no driving on Long Beach' received no comforting comment at Tuesday noon's chamber of commerce meeting here [in Long Beach]. The chamber body voted to send a committee to meet with legislators in opposition of such a beach-driving ban."
-Dec. 16, 1966
This had become all-out war.
The Longview Daily News, whose publisher, J. M. McClelland Jr., it should be remembered, was a long-time member of the State Parks board, gave the details of the state's proposed development at Leadbetter, introduced by a description of the status quo:
"As it stands now, Leadbetter Point on the Long Beach Peninsula is of little use for anything. The unimproved road into it from Oysterville is almost impossible to negotiate in low-slung cars, and parking space at the end of the road at the old military reservation is extremely limited. The State Parks and Recreation Commission has released a master plan for the entire point of land which, if approved by the legislature, would change it into a first-class recreational area.
"The extreme north end, and the low-lying Grassy Island on the Willapa bay side of the tip, would be kept as it is now - sand dunes, low underbrush and scrub pine - for a wildlife conservation area.
"The development would begin approximately three miles from Oysterville, where the state and federal property boundaries begin. ... The first schedule [in 1967 to 1969] calls for an outlay of $672,752 for the construction of a shop, tower and water system, resurfacing of road and construction of new road, two 60-unit camp loops, a ranger residence, one bathhouse, a day-use comfort station, two 240-car parking lots, two stove shelters, two organization camp loops and comfort station, some reforestation and development of the wildlife conservation area.
"The second schedule [1971 to 1973] calls for a parking lot and boat ramp to handle 120 cars and 120 boat trailers, a third 60-unit camp loop, a registration area, dredging for boat launching and docking, comfort station at boat launch, two more 240-car parking lots and a boathouse and beach development.
"The final stage of development [1975 to 1977] calls for another bathhouse and two kitchen shelters, a third organization camp loop, two 60-unit camp loops, an electric stove shelter, a second ranger residence, two clam-cleaning sheds and three more 60-unit camp loops.
" 'From the tip of Leadbetter Point to Cape Disappointment this unique and exceptional 26 miles of Washington coastline offers a recreational attraction of enough significance to draw visitors from all parts of the nation,' the commission said.
"A recent survey by the State Department of Health shows that 60 percent of the ocean beach users in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties comes from Puget Sound counties, and with the new Astoria-Megler bridge, this area is expected to receive an increased amount of tourist traffic from the Portland area. The commission feels that the Leadbetter Point development would neither duplicate nor compete with Fort Canby State Park. The area involved is between three and four miles long and covers 2,236 undeveloped acres, including the 350-acre Grassy Island."
-Longview Daily News, Dec. 20, 1966
The battle wore on, through endless heated meetings as reported by countless lengthy newspaper articles. When it came right down to it, Peninsulans were unwilling to give up control of their home place and their way of life - driving the beach to see what the morning's tide had brought - for what was most likely an improved local economy and the higher standard of living brought by too many tourists which the State Parks' project threatened to draw.
As to the development at Leadbetter Point, Willapa Bay oystermen were "greatly disturbed" by the idea of a marina at the park, saying that "it would interfere with oyster seed beds in the area." A gasoline spill might have ruined oysters.
The Oregon and Seattle Audubon Societies spoke up about Leadbetter Point, saying that in one day they had seen 92 species of both saltwater and freshwater birds within the area, and "it would be a terrible shame if the state sets up a state park on the sand end of Leadbetter Point ... If roads and cars are permitted to become a common part of the natural bird sanctuary, the entire value will be lost. ... Leadbetter Point [is] a crossroads of the world for birds."
In the end, 1,400 acres of the Point were conferred to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife department for inclusion in the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. That meant that habitat preservation was the order of the day and park development would be minimal.
Since 1969, State Parks and Recreation has invested in restroom and parking facilities at several locations along the Peninsula, and they made at least one more pass at Leadbetter Point with a camp loop in mind, but that development was limited to a ranger's residence, hiking trails, a handful of parking spaces, and public restrooms.
However, in 1979 the state had a final Bronx cheer. "Boo on Dixy Lee," read the Observer headline for Feb. 1, 1979, in reference to the honorable governor.
"Pacific County commissioners expressed disappointment with Gov. Dixy Lee Ray's recent appointments to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Gov. Ray appointed to the Parks Commission two men from the Seattle area and one from Spokane.
"The Governor passed over considering reappointing Kay Green from Longview (a native of South Bend) to the board and also, in effect, turned down recommendations that Gary Dennis of Raymond and Guy Glenn of the Peninsula be appointed to one of the three openings. ...
"Commissioner Eldred Penttila said the governor 'eliminated about 400,000 people in Southwest Washington' from the decision-making process. Commissioner Clara Korevaar said the people appointed should have at least been 'aware of what the beach ... looks like.' "
But, hey, hadn't the Peninsula and Grayland asked for it?