Oregon’s coastline is well known for its dramatic scenery; a landscape of rocky headlands, forested capes and picturesque coves interspersed with sweeping beaches and coastal rivers draining watersheds both large and small.
Lesser known, however, is the story behind Oregon’s unique coastal public access. Oregon's coastline, it turns out, is a coastline reserved for the people. What does that mean exactly? It means that all of us, both Oregonians and visitors alike, have legal public rights to access all of Oregon’s beaches along the state’s 363 miles of coastline.
In fact, Oregon is home to the only ocean-adjacent public coastline in the country. (Texas’ coastline is also public, but for beaches along the Gulf of Mexico). The public rights, along with a robust network of coastal state parks that afford easy access to some of the more rugged and scenic coastal stretches, truly sets Oregon apart as a destination for coastal outdoor recreation.
As an homage to the public nature and spirit embodied by the Oregon Coast, we are excited to share The People’s Coast, the second video in a three-part series highlighting the exceptional diversity of outdoor recreation opportunities awaiting you in Oregon. Created in partnership with Travel Oregon, Outdoor Project, Outlive Creative, Oregon State Parks and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, The People’s Coast takes viewers on a cinematic excursion to a handful of Oregon’s coastal state parks while introducing a sampling of the outdoor adventures one can find both within parks and beyond.
So where did this vision for a public coast originate? In 1913, Oregon’s beaches were established as a public highway by the state legislature. The establishment of Oregon’s beaches as a public right-of-way, and thus the notion of a “public coast,” was readily adopted by Oregonians. As a destination, Oregon’s coast quickly became a beloved resource for it’s scenic beauty and recreational offerings.
A half-century later the recognition and understanding of the public coastline came to a head when a beachside hotel owner sectioned off a portion of the the beach in front of his motel, claiming it as private property. According to the Oregon Historical Society/Oregon Encyclopedia, the 1913 state legislature had reserved only the wet sand portion of the beach as a public highway/right-of-way. Many coastal property owners still had deeds with rights to develop areas that were off the wet sand. In response to this, and inline wth the steadfast public sentiment that had grown over the previous 50 years maintaining Oregon’s beaches were indeed reserved for the people, a piece of landmark legislation known as the Beach Bill was passed in 1967. Championed by then Governor Tom McCall, the Beach Bill officially established public rights and access to Oregon’s beaches and coastline. The new legislation applied to the beach area from the ocean up to 16 vertical feet above the low tide line, or where vegetation began, “declaring free and uninterrupted access” of Oregon’s beaches for the people.
The Beach Bill is only part of The People’s Coast story. Serving public access in tandem with the Beach Bill, Oregon is home to an impressive network of coastal state park sites, which includes state parks themselves, as well as state recreation sites, state natural areas, state scenic viewpoints and state scenic corridors. Over 75 state park sites are situated along Oregon’s nearly 400 miles of coastline; that works out to roughly one state park site for every 5 miles.
Oregon’s coastal state parks and related infrastructure – the trails, roads, parking areas and campgrounds - within them, are a central piece of the public access story. Without the parks, many of Oregon’s most scenic and wild coastal stretches and landmarks would be extremely difficult to access. We can thank Oregon’s state parks for enabling much of the coastal recreation accessible today.
Oregon’s coast is a coastline for the people. Not only is it strikingly scenic and rich with outdoor recreation, it’s also reserved for the public. That means for you and for me. We hope The People’s Coast inspires you to find adventure along the Oregon coast soon. Learn more about the activities and locations featured in The People’s Coast in the adventures below and by visiting traveloregon.com, oregonstateparks.org and myodfw.com.
So you're interested in Oregon. Chances are you're ready to hike the trails, sip craft beer and chow down on a farm-fresh feast. But let’s not get too caught up in the hype: When you dig a bit deeper, you learn there’s even more to this wild and wonderful state. Start exploring and plan your next trip at Travel Oregon.