Covid on The Coast

Walking on the beach here in Tillamook County, Oregon, it is sometimes easy to forget that there is a pandemic or that it has had a devastating effect on tourism and the local economy over the past year. According to a Travel Oregon study from January 2021, spending on travel declined by 58% in 2020 compared to 2019 with most of the loss of revenue occurring between the lockdown months of April and June. Since the barricades came down, however, the beaches here in Rockaway, Oregon have often been packed with visitors seeking a way to get out of the house without going too far.

With strict limitations on indoor activities and non-essential businesses closed, many Oregonians were forced to find other ways to have fun. After endless hours of Netflix, who could blame them? Parks near rivers, lakes, and the ocean received the majority of those outward bound. While welcomed by most, this did raise health concerns for the many residents in the area who fall into the  high-risk category for Covid-19. Tillamook is a rural county; our hospitals are smaller and medical resources fewer than in areas with higher, permanent populations.

The first surge of visitors in March, 2020, took me completely by surprise as it did many in the small local communities on the northern coast. The beaches here are typically quiet in the spring, even on weekends. Walking with my dog, Annie, from our home to our usual beach access point, I was stopped dead in my tracks one Saturday morning. The tiny parking lot which is also the driveway for two private homes was packed with more cars than would be normal even if it was a holiday weekend. Despite stay-at-home orders, cars were lined up along the street as well, with some visitors even parking on lawns. Where there would normally be one or two cars, there were twenty or thirty. With social distancing  impossible under these circumstances, I turned around and went home.

This was the weekend that led to the controversial closure of the beaches by many coastal towns. Reopening them was just as controversial.

Parking lots and park resources are easily overwhelmed in this area.  During the summer months of 2020, garbage cans overflowed and public facilities were stretched beyond their limits. There was a lot of anger directed at tourists who weren’t always respectful of the land or local residents. However, many local residents, particularly those that own businesses or whose economic livelihood is based on tourism, were happy to see the beaches reopened. It was a difficult year to find balance in so many ways.

Things have slowed back down a little here. That could be due to Covid-related restrictions or maybe it’s just that time of the year. It rains a lot here January through March and the tides are high, limiting outdoor activities. Some days during the King Tides there isn’t a beach at all! 

One thing I have noticed is that the way the beach is enjoyed has changed since the beginning of the pandemic. Where before most people would spend just a short time on the beach before moving on to the next activity, they are now making a day of it. Visitors are setting up their cabanas and bringing their coolers and frisbees. It’s been nice to see people really taking the time to enjoy this place. 

The joy has been a beautiful thing to see while the trash left behind has not been. The trail that I use to get to the beach is not an official one. There is one residential-sized trash can that is emptied once a week. It may even be provided by the residents of that street, I’m not sure. Walking along the trail to the ocean, I have seen dirty diapers and the remains of people’s picnics tossed to the side. Once there was even a broken beach chair. It’s sad. This trail is not maintained by the city, but by the people who live here. 

I hope that once the rain stops and the tide goes out that the visitors come back. Just please, if you visit, pick up after yourself And your dog—they can’t do it for themselves.

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