Something to Bragg About: California’s Glass Beach

From a distance it appears to be a normal beach, slightly mottled. As you get closer the sand seems rather large and irregular, it seems to glimmer. This is no ordinary beach.

Starting in 1949 the occupants of the city of Fort Bragg, California made a specialty of cheaply disposing of unwanted item. Hauling the items over the nearby cliff and letting gravity do the work. Cars, Washing Machines and normal household rubbish was disposed of in the same way, littering the beach beneath the cliff. The idea was patently rubbish but the behaviour continued, earning the entire area the nickname of ‘The Dumps’.

In 1967 the local authorities refused to put up with the refuse and they closed off the area entirely. Slowly but surely they engaged in a series of cleanups to return the area to its previous pristine state, allowing locals to drink in the previously beautiful scenery. This was not a job they would complete.

Removing the cars and various appliances was simple, the smaller and more numerous articles took longer to remove but were easily doable. The occupants of Fort Bragg were rather extensive drinkers though, and as such had deposited an immense number of bottles over the years, leaving the beach coated in a layer of sharp shards shimmering in the sunlight.

These pieces were washed by the sea and the grains of sand contained within the waves, this process known as abrasion, slowly chipped away at all of the shards, leaving ‘trinkets’. Rounded glass pebbles perfectly safe to handle. Locals descended on the beach looking for interesting missed items and removing the glass in great quantities. The unofficial tourist attraction was being destroyed by the magpie instincts of locals.

“Glass Beach is a unique beach, not because nature made it that way, but because time and the pounding surf have corrected one of man’s mistakes.”

To stop the total destruction of this unique environment action was taken. In 2002, the California State Park System purchased the 38-acre site and integrated it into the nearby MacKerricher State Park. Removing glass is now illegal, but people still scour for rare curios buried under their glass casing, odd things to remove and take home. For the moment its destruction has been halted. It is an oddity, and the toast of the area.

(Image courtesy of Jef Poskanzer, under the creative commons 2.0 attribution license)

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