The Ocean Shores peninsula is thin at the top, the tiny community of Oyhut and North Beach High School are on the neck, and the “city center” of Ocean Shores is on the ocean side down the wide boulevard, shortly beyond the elaborate city gates and welcome sign. The peninsula fattens out continuing south; it wasn’t always so. Since jetties were built around the entrance of Gray’s Harbor in the early 1900s, Ocean Shores has been growing, due to a process called accretion, the opposite of erosion. Simply stated, jetties changed the flow of ocean currents so that sand and sediment piled up on the beaches greatly increasing landmass. In fact, a large portion of Ocean Shores is built on land that did not exist prior to 1900. More about that later.
Beach and North Jetty: On the ocean side of the 6-mile-long peninsula, you’ll find the big resorts in addition to beach homes and cottages, with lots of new construction taking place. The stretch of sandy beach is public, with five vehicle accesses. When you get to the end of the beach at the tip of the peninsula, it starts to get interesting. Point Brown, at the southwest tip, is site of the outer portion of Grays Harbor’s North Jetty. This is a favorite gathering place for birds, and seabirds were thick along the jetty, in flight over it and on the rocks.
Ocean Shores Boulevard follows the jetty, but then curves around to skirt Oyhut Wildlife Recreation Area, roadless, but with trails winding through sand dunes and saltwater marshes. On the development side of the road, you’ll notice that the streets have been fully plotted and paved, and homes are some distance apart, but new building is definitely happening. During the 1990s, Ocean Shores grew by 66%.
Damon Point State Park: While driving, keep hanging right and you’ll eventually get to Marine View Drive. This will take you to Damon Point State Park, which used to be known as Protection Island, because before massive accretion, it actually was an island. The 1-mile road to Damon Point is currently closed to vehicles due to erosion, but it can be walked. This same erosion has uncovered what’s left of the shipwreck Catala. Stay off the main dune between March and September; it’s a nesting area for the snowy plover. Shoreline remains open for humans all year long, and sometimes whales and seals can be seen, not to mention a great variety of birds at all times. Views are of Grays Harbor bar and estuary. There is a $5 fee for parking in the state park lot.
Marina: A hop, skip, and a jump up from the state parking lot, take Discovery Avenue to the Marina. Here you’ll find campground, Silver King Condominium Motel, and a dilapidated but still functioning marina. This is where you can catch the ferry to Westport, with five runs a day all summer long. North of the marina, Ocean Shores Interpretive Center is worth at least a couple of hours for an educational and enjoyable visit. Hug the bayside coast north and you’ll end up at Bill’s Spit, off the Peninsula Court cul-de-sac. The short trail leads to a great area for birding and harbor seals.
Inner Ocean Shores contains 23 miles of freshwater waterways. Another afternoon, we took a walk on the Weatherwax Nature Trail along Duck Lake. Well, Duck Lake wasn’t all that visible most of the time due to the thick stands of old growth hemlock, spruce, and cedar, overgrown at lower levels with mosses and ferns. The trail can be accessed just east of the Elks Club parking lot. Deer, raccoon, and birds hangout here. Grand Canal and Lake Minard are the two other larger freshwater waterways in this very watery peninsula. Many homes’ backyards are on the edge of lake or canal. Walkable Ocean Shores Golf Course ($30 a round) is located at the north end of the peninsula, inland.
Speaking of which, famous crooner and golfer Pat Boone is apparently one of Ocean Shores’ founding fathers. Before jetties, accretion, and Pat, though, Chehalis, Chinook, Quinault, and other Indian peoples made good use of this peninsula, with permanent and temporary camps for food gathering, meeting, and enjoyment. But then, in the 1860s, Matthew McGee settled on the Point, having some misadventures and getting shot. Beginning in 1878, the entire peninsula was sold to A. O. Damon. The peninsula became a family-owned (Damon-Minard) cattle ranch through several generations.
Enter Ocean Shores Development Corporation. The year: 1960. The players: Hollywood, California. The cost: $1,000,000 (paid to Ralph Minard). The concept: planned unit development, mostly for retirees and resorts. Price of lots: $595. By 1967, Pat Boone was one of the investors, instigating celebrity golf tournaments to promote development. Airstrip, marina, malls, and motels sprang up. And apparently continue to spring up, though not perhaps as rapidly as envisioned by Pat and Hollywood four decades past.
Expensive electricity; problems with water and sewage, resulting in the most sky-high-priced Laundromat we’ve encountered yet (washloads begin at $2.25); and that annoying erosion problem make Ocean Shores less than paradise, at least for long-term residents. If anywhere has me convinced that it’s probably best not to build a home near the beach, it’s here. That’s not because this is the only place with such a problem, but this is where my awareness of such problems got beyond the TV broadcast stage (homes falling into the ocean on dramatic newscasts).
As far as I can tell, it’s a problem of equilibrium. Sand, silt, and sediment that used to be deposited on the beaches in generous amounts is no longer being deposited as quickly, if at all. Erosion was already occurring on accreted lands in the mid-90s at a frightening pace, mostly because it was threatening newly built structures. The strong el Niño winter of ’97-98 saw some very scary events taking place, with receding beaches and structures being washed away into the ocean. All that damming upriver really puts a dent into sand supply; dredged out precious land is dumped elsewhere, upriver, more short-term cost-effective than returning it to where it might have naturally flowed. Ocean Shores responded quickly.
Seawalls and geotubes: In 1996, an emergency 800-foot-long seawall was erected near North Jetty. In 1999, with the state’s help, geotubes were embedded along the southwestern peninsula. Geotubes are massive fiber sausage-shaped bags filled with water to hold back the ocean. After all that work, subsequent winters were milder and accretion began again, covering the unsightly tubes. But there’s no telling when conditions will change and erosion will progress. So, duh. Unless you’re Dutch and have a full grasp of the principals, engineering, and technology of taking land from sea and holding on to it, it seems to me like it's wisest not to build on recently accreted lands, since what’s given can just as easily be taken back, right? Or be like us. Go there in your RV, car, and tent, or stay at a motel or resort to enjoy the sea, sand, birds, and dunes.