How to Celebrate Oswald West and the Oregon Coast

Oregon Governor Oswald West on Feb. 13, 1913 signed a bill into law that would change the course of history in the state. That sounds like hyperbole, I know. But read for yourself:

“The shore of the Pacific Ocean, between ordinary high tide and extreme low tide, and from the Columbia River on the north to the Oregon and California State line on the south, excepting such portion or portions of such shore as may have heretofore been disposed of by the State, is hereby declared a public highway and shall forever remain open as such to the public.”

Those 66 words ensured that Oregonians would never pay for beach access. Lovers wouldn’t have to be hotel guests to walk hand-in-hand along certain stretches of coastline. Families wouldn’t worry about throwing a football onto private property. And no developer would ever claim a stretch of sand for themselves.

West said of the bill, “No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people.”

That’s what the coast represented: “The great birthright of our people.” One hundred years later, people from around the world travel to the Oregon Coast to enjoy its remarkable beauty. From the majestic Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach to the soft sands of South Beach and beyond, the Oregon Coast offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, picturesque beauty, and natural wonders that enchant visitors from all walks of life. All thanks to Oswald West.

If that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is. But the odds are good that you’re not able to enjoy the beach in person on Feb. 13. If you’re a cast-away (like myself) but want to celebrate the momentous occasion (like myself), here’s a handy guide to making the most of Feb. 13.

Watch Oregon Experience: The Beach Bill.

If this 30-minute OPB documentary was a college class, it would show up as “Oregon Beaches 101” in the course catalog, and it would be worth going back to school for.

Oregon Experience: The Beach Bill breaks down the history of the Oregon Coast, the fight to keep it free, and why it’s so important and unusual for Oregon beaches to be open to all. It’s an engaging and enlightening look at what makes Oregon so cool and forward-thinking.

And it’s only a half-hour. You can spare that. What, you’d rather watch “The Bachelor?” Come on.

Read a Matt Love book

There is no bigger champion of the Oregon Coast than writer Matt Love. If 10 minutes with one of his paeans doesn’t move you to drop everything and head to the coast that very instant, then please leave a comment and tell me what it’s like to live without a heart. Do you hate kittens and sunshine, too?


Grasping Wastrels Vs. Beaches Forever Inc. is a good place to start if you can find it in a used bookstore. The collection of essays and newspaper columns details the genesis of the fight to preserve Oregon’s beaches and traces the battle over the course of 60 years. Even today, the war wages on.

Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker details Love’s time as caretaker of the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Love also writes about his time as a teacher, the beauty of the coast, and the importance of preserving the region’s unique ecology. At its core, the book is about finding one’s passion and working to make one’s dream a reality.

Love & the Green Lady pays tribute to the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport. It captures the spirit of this beautiful bridge by mixing poetry, prose, and photography.

Super Sunday in Newport might be my favorite book by Love. The collection of essays explores Love’s life and day-to-day living in Newport. He doesn’t sell the tourist attractions (like the Oregon Coast Aquarium) for out-of-towners. Instead, he talks to tavern regulars and finds peace in solitude on the beach. It’s about a man who’s chased his dream and is living it every single day.

Sometimes a Great Movie uncovers a slice of Oregon history hidden from even the longest-tenured residents. Paul Newman spent the summer of 1970 on the central Oregon Coast, where he directed and starred in the cinematic adaption of Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion.” Love blends stories from the locals, background on how “Notion” got made, and the legacy of the film. Whatever you do, resist the urge to skip ahead to find out about Newman, the chainsaw, and the pool table.

Raise a pint and toast Oswald West with a beer brewed on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is awash in craft breweries, and another seemingly opens at every high tide. Astoria Brewing Company, Seaside Brewing Company, Pelican Pub & Brewery, and Rusty Truck Brewing are a few of the myriad breweries that dot the coast and warm up patrons after a day of playing in the sand.

If you’re unable to sample these beers in-person, seek out a six-pack or pint from some of the coast’s better-known breweries. The Vortex IPA from Fort George, brewed in Astoria, and Rogue’s double chocolate stout, brewed in Newport, are two of my favorites.

Listen to Blind Pilot

I should have known it wasn’t going to work out with an ex when she called Blind Pilot “boring.” I have no time for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the mellow sounds of this acoustic folk outfit, which got its start in Astoria (technically not a coastal town, but close enough!).

The band’s haunting sound is almost as foggy as the town that spawned it, and both of the group’s melodic albums deserve repeat listens. Whether you’re sharing an intimate moment with a special someone or letting the rain bounce off your windshield on Highway 101, Blind Pilot’s music is made for the Northwest coast.

Go to the beach!

Odds are good that you’re not reading this within shouting distance of the Oregon Coast. So make plans to go, like, yesterday.

Once there, drink a beer, make love, throw a Frisbee, write a message in the sand, throw a football, snap photos, build a bonfire, write a poem, run into the waves, get high, build a sandcastle, collect driftwood, take a nap. Whatever you do, make it count.

It is, after all, your great birthright.


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