The sun had just set below the Pacific Ocean’s indigo horizon. Our Long Beach bonfire was blazing merrily in the windbreak of a drift log, and a glass of cabernet washed down some sticky s’mores rather nicely. It was the kind of moment the local visitor bureau likes people to talk about.
Then the peaceful moment went all to hell.
“Vroooom!” roared an engine as an old Jeep catapulted on to the sand 100 feet from us. Headlight beams joggled across the beach until reaching the waterline, then the vehicle went into a mad spin, sand flying high. “Cutting doughnuts,” they call it — the kind of thing that ravages clam beds and makes sandpipers and gulls flap for their lives.
“Yeeee-ha!” came throaty yells from the Jeep’s occupants, who sounded like they’d had more than one glass of something.
Though the classic beach-town atmosphere of Long Beach is a big lure, here was a good reason not to return.
Driving on Washington beaches started in the early days of automobiles, when the coast had few roads and the sand was designated part of the highway system.
That day is long outdated. There are plenty of roads now. But many locals will tell you that beach driving is an entrenched part of coastal culture that will never change.
However, lots of people said cigarette smoking in the workplace would never be outlawed; that same-sex marriage, or marijuana, would never be legal. Times change. Values change.
Today, the growing number of vehicles grinding up the sand on parts of our coastline, such as Long Beach and Ocean Shores, means you can’t relax walking hand-in-hand at the waterline; you have to keep looking over your shoulder. Children can’t be safe to build a sand castle without an adult keeping an eye peeled for big-tire pickups. Even the primal joy of walking barefoot on the sand isn’t the same when you’re picking your way across tire tracks spanning the width of a freeway. (Besides which, the sand is so churned you don’t know when you’re going to step on a broken beer bottle.)
And while the beach speed limit is 25 mph, many drivers flout that. Enforcement is too rare.
Seasonal restrictions apply on some stretches of Washington beach, and cars aren’t allowed at places such as Olympic National Park beaches. By comparison, while Oregon allows cars on a few beaches, it prohibits them year-round on major recreational beaches such as Seaside, Cannon Beach, Arch Cape, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Cape Meares, Oceanside, Netarts and Newport — plenty of options for Washingtonians looking for a safer, more natural and peaceful seaside experience. And visitor bureaus wonder why so much Washington tourist money goes south.
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