Pacific Coast Recreation Area Survey
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Basic Statistics

The survey found that 1,448 miles of ocean shoreline are not in public ownership and therefore not available for public recreation. Of this 1,448 miles of shoreline, 527 miles were identified during the survey as possessing important remaining opportunities for recreation and other public purposes. These were divided among 74 individual areas with 9 areas in Washington, 17 in Oregon and 48 in California.

Seven of the 74 areas, with 190 miles of shoreline, were identified as possessing recreation, scientific or cultural resources of major importance. Five of the seven were determined to be of possible national significance, and the remaining two of outstanding state park caliber.

Thirty-eight of the areas were classified as being of statewide importance from the standpoint of serving recreation needs or for the preservation of biological resources, while 29 were adjudged to be of state, county or local significance.

Twelve of the 74 areas, represented by each of the above three categories, were found to warrant preservation from the standpoint of their inherent biological values alone, primarily because of waterfowl, shorebirds, marine birds or marine invertebrates. Three of these areas are located in Washington, while three are in Oregon and six are in California.

Also included in the 527 miles of shoreline are 39 miles which are contained in two large military reservations and which may or may not eventually become available for public recreation. In addition, 140 miles are the shorelines of three islands within the Channel Islands group.

The Present Situation

Of all the wilderness environments which man has identified, the true value of the seashore is perhaps the least understood. It is undoubtedly in a large measure due to this lack of full appreciation that the natural seashore is already rapidly vanishing. A prime example concerns the tidal zones of the Pacific Coast. Man is placing an increased dollar value on these tidal zones, not so much from his knowledge or appreciation of their inherent values as from his ever-increasing ability to exploit them. Similar situations exist on other sections of the seashore and adjacent uplands. Vast tidal areas are being reclaimed, for example, as garbage dumps, airports, freeways and for other private and commercial developments. State-owned tidelands have also been sold to private individuals. In addition to the loss of these valuable areas for public recreation the practice has, in some instances, brought on a serious problem in restricting public access to the shoreline. Lack of public access to the shoreline is, in fact, one of the most general and pressing problems in the situation today. The increasing popularity of the seashore and the consequent influx of people to it have been accompanied by more extensive posting of private lands. Along the southern portion of the coast particularly, people not infrequently drive for miles looking for some means of access to the shore.

Signs such as this which limit public access appear frequently along the seashore.

Other conflicting interests, too, play their part in denying to the general public its need for recreation use and enjoyment of the Pacific shoreline. There is a definite conflict, for example, between conservation groups on the one hand and boat owners on the other. The almost explosive upsurge in boating has created an extensive demand for small craft harbors, and invaluable marsh areas are being dredged to meet the growing need. Subdivision and private beach dwellings are utilizing much of the seashore that possesses high recreation potential, while industry — notably oil — is also taking its toll. Then, too, beaches and tidepools are being polluted by untreated sewage. Logs and other sea debris, largely the result of man's activities, have accumulated on other beaches, preventing their use.

Development of areas already acquired along the coast have not, in general, kept pace with the demand for facilities and improvements. In some cases, for instance, there is a noticeable lack of parking facilities for seashore recreation, and a definite need exists for additional as well as expansion of existing camping facilities along the ocean.

The rocky tidal areas on the Pacific Coast are being subjected to human use and exploitation which in many cases are having a detrimental effect on the existing biotic communities. Students from grade school through the college level are being informed of the wonders of these tidal areas through organized excursions to the ocean where they collect and study the plant and animal life of the tidepools. Here professional and amateur collectors harvest literally millions of marine invertebrate animals in the course of a year. Some of the exceptionally rich tidepools are now supporting only nominal populations, and in some cases, certain species are vanishing. Some of the richest seashore biotic communities lie adjacent to existing or proposed public parks. Most of these parks prohibit the taking or destruction of any of the natural features found above the high tide line but they have little, if any, jurisdiction over the inter-tidal area.

The seashore is becoming increasingly popular, not only for recreation but for private and commercial developments as well. — by Moulin Studios, San Francisco

One of the most fascinating and biologically prolific environments on the face of the earth lies beneath the surface of the ocean. Today people by the hundreds of thousands are exploring this new frontier. Skin divers, SCUBA divers, spear fishermen, photographers and naturalists are "taking to the sea." Unfortunately, however, many of these finer underwater areas are being denuded of the very things which attract people to them. If these exquisite marine gardens are to be enjoyed by future generations remedial steps must be taken. Underwater recreation on the Pacific Coast is largely concentrated in the warmer, clearer waters of southern California. However, improved equipment is opening up areas which previously were considered unsuitable for such use.

Logging, sea and other forms of debris, detract from the scenic qualities and recreation potentiality along sections of the Pacific Coast.

Of all of the coastal habitat types, none has been subjected to the pressures of civilization or are vanishing more rapidly than the soft-bottomed tidal areas. The salt marshes and mudflats are inhabited by countless plants and animals which are entirely dependent upon these types of environments. In addition to providing feeding, migrating, and wintering habitat essential to millions of waterfowl, shore birds and marine birds, these tidal areas are reproductive centers for countless fish, invertebrate animals and marine plants which constitute a vital link in the food chain of the sea. Much of the remaining soft-bottomed tideland is publicly owned; however, public ownership in no way insures habitat preservation. There is today only one major waterfowl refuge immediately adjacent to the littoral coast, and more are needed. A number of relatively small bird sanctuaries are found along the coast. Few of these, however, constitute areas of major importance. A limited number of excellent salt marsh and mudflat habitats still exist, but present indications are that if steps are not taken soon, the inherent biologic values will be seriously jeopardized and, in some cases, completely destroyed.

Despite their injurious effects on certain biotic communities, skin diving and similar aquatic recreation pursuits are serving to bring about a greater public awareness of the recreation qualities of the seashore. The inter-tidal zone, for example, which had long been taken pretty much for granted, is now receiving increasing attention. Through these activities, as well as outdoor education programs of our schools, together with television and informative literature, this intensely interesting new frontier is being revealed to, and utilized by, a rapidly growing segment of the American people.

Other opportunities to preserve seashore wilderness type areas also exist on the Pacific Coast. Some of the finest opportunities here are found on the Channel Islands, which are located approximately 25 to 50 miles off the coast of southern California. Although extensive overgrazing by domestic livestock has been tragically severe in some locations on the islands, the existing biologic, historic, and archeologic values are supremely interesting and unique. There is, in fact, nothing comparable found along the entire Pacific Coast in the way of maritime ecology which is still relatively untouched.

The accelerating problem of population growth, however, is rapidly ruling out the possibility of postponing decisions on the use of the seashore. Rapidly increasing numbers of people are "discovering the seashore," and the rate of competition for its use constitutes one of the most perplexing planning problems connected with the Pacific Coastal region.

The West Coast, though historically younger, is having to go through the accelerated growth patterns our country is now experiencing, and is maturing and developing at a much greater rate than has the eastern seaboard.

Now is the time when we must ask ourselves what will be more valuable, precious, or important 50 or 100 years from today — a housing development, a garbage dump, an airport, a factory, or a seashore park where Americans can partake of the magnificence of natural things, and the refreshment of strength and spirit that accompanies such an experience?

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Last Updated: 25-Jun-2007