Huge landscape changes in a popular Oregon coastal town over the decades

Huge landscape changes in a popular Oregon coastal town over the decades

Posted 4/23/22 10:52 PM PST
By the staff of the Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Seaside, Oregon) – Located fairly close to the northern tip of the Oregon Coast, Seaside has been something of a centerpiece of family entertainment along those coasts for more than 100 years. With its wide range of fun and wacky attractions, it has been attracting parents with children since just before the turn of the 20th century, funneled from major population centers like southern Washington, the Portland metro area and Salem. It’s one aspect of this town that hasn’t changed much, except that this family trend has grown over the decades. (Above: Seaside circa 1910, courtesy of the Seaside Historical Society)

Yet since its inception around 1880, Oregon‘s North Coast favorite has seen drastic changes in the landscape, probably more so than most areas. And a lot of that has to do with something 20 miles north: the Columbia River Piers. There have been other wild and surprising geological changes here as well.

In fact, there was a lot less Seaside in its early days. Until around the 1920s, it was a rocky, pebbly beach – much like the cove is today. And it was a much shorter beach, with a bit of a steep slope to the sea. Look at the photo above, taken around 1910, and you can see a huge difference. This is also a summer photo, which means there is more sand than usual and the slope is not as steep as other photos taken in other seasons. It’s a lot of rubble as well as large rounded polished stones like you see in the creek today.

Until about 1917, there was about 300 feet or less of beach, and it wasn’t soft and comfortable year-round. In winter it was often an even shorter stretch. It was the completion of the jetty system around Astoria that really moved the currents, so that within a few years it had doubled in width, if not more. Work on the piers began in the 1880s and the South Pier was completed in 1917. By 1920 it looked much more like it does now. It was incredibly fast.

These days there is about 1,000 feet of sand between the Prom and the tide line.

In fact, this entire section of the northern Oregon coast has been drastically altered. Half a mile and sometimes more were added in areas like Warrenton and Fort Stevens. There are huge chunks of this northern landscape that didn’t exist before 1885, and certainly before 1920.

Another added layer to all of this is the introduction of Scotch Broom to the area, used to stabilize the dunes. Still, it’s an invasive species, so what it did was take over and spread the dunes eastward as well. Large sections of grassy plains around Highway 101 that served as cattle feeding areas have disappeared under these new dunes.

These days, Seaside shaves its dunes from time to time. If you want to know what the city would look like without the work, watch Gearhart, according to Oregon Coast geologist Tom Horning. There, clumps of giant dunes intersect, all covered in layers of beach grass. The seaside would be like this if left without a few dunes.

You’ll notice in the historic photos that there was a giant pier at Seaside – a rather goofy splurge that was cut short thanks to Oregon’s coastal storms.

Then, in 1987, another major change took place at Seaside, with hundreds of feet added to the Cove area.

The Cove in its smelly 80s beginnings, courtesy of Tom Horning

A massive landslide on Tillamook Head dropped tons of material into the waters and accumulated here, pushing back the tides. Boulders and boulders slowly filled in the area and formed a new spit first. This delighted the local anglers, but soon put everyone off as giant pools of seawater formed here and they soon began to reek of rotting sea life.

Eventually more rocks then sand filled it all in due to the tides and over 100 yards was added to a rather meager shoreline.

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