A Visit to North Cove

This bit of coast has the dubious recognition of losing the most landmass in our hemisphere than any other place.

North Cove

We recently planned a small family camping trip at Grayland State Park. When our kids were little we spend many a weekend in the area, enjoying the beach, wildlife, and surf.

Theresa and I arrived early and had a day to ourselves. I was wondering what would be a good activity to do when I remembered that years ago we had found been exploring some of the back roads in the area when we found half a house collapsed across a bluff into the surf zone. The rest of the house, refrigerator, toilet, and such, were scattered up and down the beach.

North Cove
North Cove loses more waterfront property due to erosion than any other place in this hemisphere. As much as 150' a year. This has been happening since the 1880s.
North Cove
Here's someone's freezer in the tidal zone after their house has been destroyed by tidal erosion.

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This bit of coast has the dubious recognition of losing the most landmass in our hemisphere than any other place.

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Saving a Legacy

The area once known as Cape Shoalwater on the Washington Coast, now properly known as North Cove, and nicknamed Washaway — is one of the fastest eroding places in our hemisphere. It loses an average of 150 feet a year. In a bad winter, it can be much more.

The phenomenon began in the late 1800s. North Cove was supposed to be a luxury destination for train travelers between Seattle and Portland. It was a town with brick buildings, a Coast Guard station, a clam cannery, and fine homes. The whole town fell into the ocean, one by one, and nothing could stop it.

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Theories vary as to why. The damming of the Columbia River at that time changed how sand moves around, or “sediment accretion” as the coastal geologists like to say, which is fancy talk for how all our sand is moving to Long Beach to the south of Washaway. There is also the possibility that the dredging of a ship channel by the Army Corps of Engineers, well into the 1970s, didn’t help matters. Or it could just be that this part of the state wants to stick out like a big nose. The ocean is a relentless plastic surgeon.

Homeowners, those that could afford it, have moved the homes to new lots. Most end up in the pacific. The historical cemetery was relocated across the highway. In 2018 a meeting between residents, and county/state officials was held to discuss what could be done to save the property.

Federal scientists and engineers have said that the cost of halting the erosion would be enormous — greater than the total value of the land and infrastructure in the area. And so Mother Nature continues to carve away at the shoreline.

During my trip down the beach, I found plenty of evidence of the loss incurred. Seems like there should be a message that all of us can learn from this but will we?

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