Oregon Coast Notebook: The Lincoln City Syndrome

Sunset at Sunset Bay, Oregon

WC has always loved the Oregon Coast. From Astoria in the north to Brookings in the south, it offers the North Pacific Ocean at its best against a sprawling background of sand dunes, rocky headlands, gigantic green trees and dramatic seascapes. It’s more accessible than the Pacific shore of Southeast Alaska, and less brutal than Alaska’s Gulf Coast. It was WC’s playground – well, one of his playgrounds – as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and WC has been back to it many times.

The chaotic human sprawl that afflicts so much of the Atlantic Coast used to be present only in Lincoln City, where Oregon Highway 22 dumps salt-seeking Portlanders onto the coast. Miles and miles of motels, junk food sellers, strip malls and the usual detritus of 20th century mercantile, plopped down like dog dung on the spectacular scenery. Lincoln City, even back in the 1970s, was Exhibit A for what is wrong with what we do to our scenic landscapes. One of the WC’s classmates wrote a very good paper about it for an Environmental Science class, calling it the Lincoln City Syndrome, drawing comparisons to Cherokee, Tennessee at the west end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the urban sprawl around other tourism destinations. In WC’s lifetime, Glitter Gulch in the Nenana Canyon, at the east end of Denali National Park, has seen the Lincoln City Syndrome.

Alas, the Lincoln City Syndrome now afflicts much more of the Oregon Coast. Even tiny little Yachats, as charming a seaside village as the Oregon Coast offered, now suffers the Lincoln City Syndrome. Coos Bay even suffers from urban decay, and struggles with a serious homeless population. 

WC visited the Oregon Coast recently; the southern half anyway, from Newport down to Crescent City, California. Folks familiar with Oregon will note the route avoided Lincoln City entirely. The next few weeks will feature a series of trip reports, showing the good and the bad (but mostly the good). Spoiler alert: if you keep you focus mostly on the ocean, and don’t look too closely, it’s still an amazing, spectacular place.

But much has been lost. It’s not just the human sprawl, although there’s certainly a gruesome amount of that. Clearcutting continues, against all common sense and the lessons of science. The high tide line on every beach is awash in as much plastic debris as wood and shell fragments. There are signs warning you not to drink the creek water. Bird populations seem to be down everywhere. And the deservedly famous Oregon coast state parks are packed even in the pre-Memorial Day early season.

WC’s old solution to the problem of crowds was to walk away; specifically, to walk one of the terrific hiking trails that spiderweb the coastal mountains. But today that presents two problems. The trails are surprisingly crowded, too. And WC’s legs don’t seem to be able to carry him quite as far as they used to.

WC doesn’t want to sound like a cranky old man. The Oregon Coast is still a very special place. The State of Oregon has gone out of its way to make it accessible to the public and the park system there is a model for the nation. WC still finds it delightful and renewing. Despite the Lincoln City Syndrome.

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