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Northwest Coastal Beach Communities Bracing For July 4th Revelers ... And Their Trash

On July 5, 2019, volunteers on the Long Beach Peninsula collected approximately 16 tons of trash left behind by Independence Day revelers. Courtesy of Grassroots Garbage Gang


A favorable weather forecast and the Fourth of July falling on a weekend has beach communities in the Pacific Northwest bracing for an onslaught despite the ongoing pandemic. Two beach towns that tend to be holiday crowd magnets are particularly in the limelight this year.

One of the peculiarities of Ocean Shores and Long Beach, Washington, is that people can legally drive on the beach and can set off fireworks. The raucous scene might get even crazier this year given that traditional parades and community fireworks shows are mostly canceled across the region.

Washington State Parks spokeswoman Meryl Lassen said her agency, in partnership with local police and fire departments, tourism bureaus and community groups, has been “fighting an uphill battle” for years to encourage responsible behavior and protect the fragile beach environment from Independence Day revelers.

“We are concerned that, with the current political and cultural divides, this July 4 could be a losing battle as some folks throw caution to the wind,” Lassen wrote in an email.

“It sounds like fireworks sales are really high right now. So, I think we can expect it is going to be another wild year out there,” added Gus Gates, policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation in Washington, in an interview Wednesday.

It’s against the law to shoot off fireworks on all Oregon beaches. Fireworks are also prohibited in all Oregon and Washington state parks, including on the beaches in front of Washington’s coastal parks. Fireworks are never allowed in national parks, which puts the coastal section of Olympic National Park off limits, too.

Gates noted that the fifth of July is traditionally a volunteer beach cleanup day in Washington and Oregon. However, organized group cleanups were reduced this year because of coronavirus precautions.

“I’m really hopeful that people will practice personal responsibility,” Gates said. “Pack out what you’ve brought in. Leave the beaches cleaner than you found them.”

On the Long Beach Peninsula alone last year, volunteers collected and removed more than 30,000 pounds of beach trash on the day after the Fourth of July. That included not just oodles of spent fireworks, but also picnic debris, furniture and one burned-out car.

“It’s a staggering amount,” said James Roubal, program coordinator for the cleanup alliance Washington CoastSavers.

CoastSavers plans to position volunteers with trash bags and instructions during the morning of July 5 at beach approaches in Ocean Shores, Westport and Long Beach.

The all-volunteer Grassroots Garbage Gang usually powers the Long Beach cleanup. The group said in an online statement that it had to scale back its organizing due to “the threat and constraints of the coronavirus.” While the July 5 group effort is cancelled, the City of Long Beach will provide bags and dumpsters for individuals to clean up after themselves and others.

In Oregon, the environmental nonprofit SOLVE has scheduled beach cleanups on July 5 at four locations in Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

An extreme high tide after midnight on the Fourth could bring further complications. Volunteers and park rangers won’t have time to clean up before the tide peaks around 12:30 to 1:15 a.m on July 5.

“Most trash that isn’t packed out will be washed into the ocean,” Lassen said. “Additionally, cars parked too low and people camped illegally on the beach could be harmed by the tide.”

Washington State Parks advises visitors to get off the beach by 11 p.m.

State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy urged Washingtonians to stay close to home as they make their summer plans.

“We have places in Washington with a lot of COVID-19 activity,” Lofy said in a state Department of Health news release posted Wednesday. “If there’s a lot of cross-state travel this summer, that could spread disease around the state.”

A mass email sent out by the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau on Wednesday led off with, “responsible, respectful guests welcome!” and then noted that, “Everyone, even our valued guests, are going to have to do things a bit differently from here on.”

Pacific County and Grays Harbor County in Washington and all of the Oregon Coast counties except for Lincoln have moved into advanced phases of the their states’ multi-step reopening process. The next phase for them would be full reopening, which neither Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon or Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington is prepared to authorize right now.

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Copyright 2020 Northwest Public Broadcasting

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.