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The Promised Sand of Oswald West

To lay hands on the Rock is to feel inspired and imbued: inspired to believe that a politician with vision can enhance the lives of all his constituents, and imbued to never give up fighting for the great birthright and soul of Oregon — our publicly owned beaches — which undergo constant siege by the dark forces of prudery and privatization.

Actually, the Rock is a lot more than a mere rock; it has a plaque attached to it and overlooks one of the finest views on the West Coast:

Oswald West Plaque

The plaque reads:

IF SIGHT OF SAND AND SKY AND SEA
HAS GIVEN RESPITE FROM YOUR DAILY CARES

THEN PAUSE TO THANK
OSWALD WEST
FORMER GOVERNOR OF OREGON (1911-1915)

BY HIS FORESIGHT
NEARLY 400 MILES OF THE OCEAN SHORE
WAS SET ASIDE FOR PUBLIC USE
FROM THE COLUMBIA RIVER ON THE NORTH
TO THE CALIFORNIA BORDER ON THE SOUTH

THIS MARKER IS ERECTED AND DEDICATED
BY THE GRATEFUL CITIZENS OF OREGON
TO COMMEMORATE
THIS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT
IN THE CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES

In 1912 Oregon Governor Oswald West rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into Nehalem. He later said the ride inspired him: "So I came up with a bright idea. And this was very much of a surprise for I have enjoyed but few such in a lifetime. I drafted a simple short bill."

Oswald West

The bill was only 66 words long and masterfully written:

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.

West said, "I pointed out that thus we would come into miles and miles of highway without cost to the taxpayer. The Legislature and the public took the bait — hook, line and sinker. Thus came public ownership of our beaches."

Sixty-six words. With his law, which passed in 1913 and turns 100 years old this February, Oswald West changed Oregon — and all of our lives — forever. He helped create a unique and dynamic relationship between a state's citizenry and a specific natural resource unlike any other in the country. What it means to be an Oregonian began here. An elected official did that... and an elected official from Oregon can do it again if they think forward like West did.

Maybe every elected official in Oregon should pay a visit to the Rock and lay hands upon it. If they don't feel fired up to make Oregon a better state, they should do us a favor and resign on the spot.

Oswald West also said something else: "No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people."

He defined Oregon's "great birthright" as our publicly owned beaches. Amen to that.

In 1913 Oswald West preserved the Promised Sand (wet portions) of our ocean beaches for all Oregon time with his ingenious bill. That same year, a child was born in Egypt, Massachusetts. One day he would become the most beloved governor in Oregon history and preserve the Promised Sand (dry portions) of our ocean beaches for all Oregon time by signing the 1967 Beach Bill into Oregon law and legend. His name was Tom McCall, and if he were alive today, he would also be celebrating a 100th birthday this year. When that time comes, on March 22 at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, will you party hard with me? If you love the beach like I do, I really must insist.

I almost forgot to mention the location of the Rock. Take Highway 101 into Oswald West State Park just north of Manzanita. There's a pullout on the west side of the road that offers an incredible view of Manzanita, the ocean, and beyond. You can't possibly miss it unless you're glued to your phone and you drive right by. Park and get out of your vehicle. Find the Rock and strike a pose. Get the phone out, take some photographs, and then send them dancing around the world with a grammatical caption of appreciation to Oswald West.

(For more on West's important tenure as governor, check out Joe R. Blakely's informative new book, Oswald West: Governor of Oregon 1911-1915.)

÷ ÷ ÷

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

  1. Sometimes a Great Movie: Paul...
    Used Trade Paper $15.50
  2. Of Walking in Rain
    New Trade Paper $20.00


Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain

One Response to "The Promised Sand of Oswald West"

  1.  
    RPS February 5th, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I have been to that rock, on a beautiful part of the coastline, and been impressed indeed by the foresight of Governor West. Oregon is much better off thanks to his efforts. It reminds me of a similar situation in my state, where the magnificent natural wonder of Baxter State Park (200,000+ acres) became protected, beginning in 1931, due to the wisdom and generosity of former Maine Governor Percival Baxter.

    As Baxter put it, about the park's dominant landmark, "Man is born to die, his work short lived; buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes, but Katahdin, in all its glory, shall forever remain the mountain of the people of Maine. Throughout the ages it will stand as an inspiration to the men and women of the state."

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