History has repeatedly made its for-better-or-worse mark on lovely Long Beach, Washington. The Chinook were displaced by early settlers, the once-remote seascape beset by summer visitors, the abundant clams and salmon over-harvested.
By 1980 the lodgings and amusements created to support tourism from the 1880s on—including warm saltwater swimming pools and sport fishing—weren’t enough to support a town worn down by gas/energy crises and changes in the commercial fishing industry.
[Contributing factors to the decline in for-profit fishing: Pollution, climate shifts, and a controversial legal ruling giving Native tribes the right to half the region’s harvestable fish.]
Since then, a place named for 28 miles of sandy shoreline has added new chapters to its story while keeping oceanfront development minimal.
Today’s Long Beach offers a rehabilitated main street heavy on the classic seaside mix of treats and trinkets. It’s a place where taffy, burgers, and arcade games co-exist with souvenirs of Jake the Alligator Man, bumper cars, and ziploc’d bags of fresh cranberries handed over with a smile.
Kites star in museum exhibits and multiple festivals. A boardwalk winds through decades-old dune grass that both stabilizes and enchants. And down the road a ways, fans of nature and history will find Cape Disappointment anything but.
Compared to other PNW spots, the region hasn’t changed terribly much since the days when rumor (and Coast Country: A History of Southwest Washington) has it a woman dropped a ball of yarn from a train window and “the conductor halted the train, got out, retrieved the wool, and rolled it.”
For those who dream of life beyond a small coastal town, it’s likely the tourists, unhurried pace and relative isolation chafe. Luckily for the community’s economic security, though, making nostalgia the town’s dominant currency seems to be a gamble that’s paying off.