If you happen to visit Newport, Oregon on March 18, I want to invite you to a very cool hard-core Oregon event. That evening, my journalism class at Newport High School will launch Sandtuary, a special edition of the school's news magazine, the Harbor Light, documenting and celebrating the state's unique legacy of publicly owned beaches. I hope you can join us for a special evening of music and spoken word jams that begins at 7:00 p.m. After the student performances, Lincoln City surf rock band Retroactive Gamma Rays will tear into action and keep the party going. After that, you can head down to the beach and run wild until dawn.
This 32-page publication coincides with the release of a new curriculum about Tom McCall, the legendary two-term Oregon Governor who in 1967 signed the famous Beach Bill into law protecting the dry sand areas of the ocean beaches from privatization.This revolutionary piece of legislation reaffirmed the state's sacrosanct notion of publicly owned beaches first initiated by Governor Oswald West.
West was governor in 1912 when he rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into Nehalem. He later said the ride inspired him to write a masterfully brief 66-word bill that declared the wet sand areas along the ocean beaches a public highway.
The Oregon Legislature passed the bill in 1913. With his law, Oswald West changed Oregon and all of our lives forever. He helped create a relationship between a state's citizenry and a specific natural resource that is unlike any other in the country.
Oswald West's law protected the wet sand areas of Oregon's ocean beaches, but the state had no such safeguard for the dry sand areas, the space where virtually everyone recreates. In the summer of 1966, an elderly couple and their nephew were kicked off the beach by a motel owner as they picnicked in front of the owner's Cannon Beach motel.
The event touched off the epic 1967 legislative battle that eventually culminated in passage of the landmark law known as the Beach Bill. This law, which nearly died in committee due to a cabal of coastal legislators, empowered Oregon "to forever preserve...ocean beaches of the state...so that the public may have the free and uninterrupted use thereof."
I love that phrase, "the free and uninterrupted use thereof." Sounds like pretty much what's going to go down at our launch party. This year, I have some incredibly talented writers, poets, and musicians who regularly produce some of the best student work in my nearly 20 years as teacher. I like to think we report, write, design, shoot photographs and rock out better than any high school in Oregon and keep the spirit of Tom McCall alive in our words and deeds. Just read part of the beach manifesto the students wrote:
We the students of NHS…
Have grown up on these beaches.
We understand the sanctity of each grain of sand.
We use our sandy playground to swim, surf, and frolic by day,
Bonfire and stargaze by night.
We fall in love by the tide pools.
We embrace our tubular waves with passion.
We know every inch from Agate to Ona.
The salty waves run through our veins.
We the students of NHS…
Traded the metal shackles of privatization for sandy socks long ago.
We insist on our right to unharnessed nature, to free beaches.
We grapple at the thought of Californication.
The beaches are in us and of us.
Who dares to privatize?
Who dares to put a price tag on our catharsis?
Wow! Marx and Engels couldn't have written it better. If you want to hear more of that kind of youthful passion, come check out the Harbor Light staff on March 18. If you do, you'll also get to hear the only pop song ever written that has the names of Tom McCall, Oswald West, Ken Kesey, and Steve Prefontaine in the lyrics. You can't miss that!
See you at Café Mundo, located in Newport's historic Nye Beach area at the corner of NW Coast and 2nd Court.
Cost? It's absolutely free, just like Oregon's publicly-owned beaches.
÷ ÷ ÷
Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain