Saturday, August 23, 2014

Salishan Beach

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Here are a few photos from a deserted Oregon beach in mid-August. That doesn't sound possible, does it? To understand what's going on here, I have to give a little background first. Oregon's famous Beach Bill reserves all beaches along the Oregon Coast as a public right-of-way; in fact beaches are legally a state highway, though obviously they don't function as one. (This legal quirk is why it fell to the state highway commission to famously dynamite a beached whale back in 1970.) The right of way only extends up to the normal high tide mark, so while the beach itself is public, access to it is a whole other story. Particularly since the coast is also full of gated communities, and casual interlopers typically aren't really their thing.

The Salishan Resort sits on Siletz Bay, a few miles south of Lincoln City. Parts of it date back to the early 1960s, just before modern environmental laws really got going. The resort includes a hotel as well as a big gated community of funky 1970s and 1980s vacation homes, and the whole complex is built around a golf course. A small shopping area and spa along US 101 were added later. The gated community fronts on several miles of public beach, including a stretch of houses that runs much of the length of sandy Salishan Spit. Those houses probably wouldn't stand up under a tsunami or a really serious storm, and you certainly wouldn't get environmental approval to build them today, but it must have seemed like a great idea back in the 1970s. Anyway, you have a situation where the long stretch of beach here is publicly owned, but the road to the beach is gated and mere mortals aren't allowed through it.

It turns out that the beach here isn't entirely inaccessible, if you know the secret. And don't worry if you don't know the secret, because I'm about to tell you. There's a short, easy trail to the beach that begins right next to the Salishan shopping center, between it and the spa complex. The trailhead is unmarked other than a "No through traffic" sign, and looks like a service road or something. I don't know if the developers were legally obligated to provide a trail, or they did it on their own to ward off a lawsuit, or precisely what terms the trail was constructed under, but they clearly weren't obligated to advertise the existence of a trail, and they don't. I only know about it because I was staying at the hotel; the front desk there will explain how to get to the beach, but you have to ask.

If you find the trail and follow it, you quickly come to a fork in the path: Golf carts straight ahead, "Nature Trail" to the right. You want to take the nature trail here. It runs along a hedge-topped levee between the golf course and Siletz Bay, which also serves as a windbreak for the golf course. Part of the way it feels like you're walking along in a tunnel inside the hedge. Continue along the trail and you get to a forested section, and eventually you come to a clearing next to Salishan Dr., the main road through the subdivision. Just off to the left, there's an intersection with Sea Dunes Rd., a brief bit of road that takes you to the beach access point. Take the walkway over the dunes and you're at the beach, and it's quite possible nobody else will be there. I'm sure it helped that it was 58 and foggy the day I visited, and the shopping center had closed for the day, but I doubt the beach ever gets very busy. From here you can walk south toward the Gleneden Beach area, or north to the tip of the spit. At that point it's a stone's throw across a narrow channel to Lincoln City. The channel is the entrance to Siletz Bay, though, so I suspect trying to swim across would be a deeply unwise choice.

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