For over 6 decades, after the inner city of Fort Bragg California was destroyed during the San Francisco 1906 earthquake, Fort Bragg used a nearby beach, now known as the MacKerricher State Park Glass Beach, as dumping ground for it’s trash. Tons of garbage was bulldozed into this area of the pacific coast ocean of California.
It seems crazy now, but back then dumping in the ocean was common practice in many coastal communities. Can you imagine a twisted mass of cars, tires, household items and glass dumped carelessly in one of our most precious resources?! It looks horrifying doesn’t it?
The dump remained until sometime in the 1960’s when it was closed and left as a forgotten area. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that a massive clean-up began, but the broken glass from bottles, car tail lights, tv’s and other items stayed behind. They had tumbled in the waves and on the rocky beach, having been worn smooth into colorful bits of glass stone.
I made my first visit to this beach last year in early fall, and I am excited to revisit it again in the heat of summer. The ocean views are stunning. These rock crowned, deep blue waters are visited frequently by flocking seagulls, and the scenery and sound of the waves offers visitors a variety of entertainment, from a tranquil place to read a book, paint a picture, or have a family picnic and let the kids run off some energy, there’s something for everyone to appreciate.
The ankle deep little pieces of glass that decorate the beach, reminded me of my grandma’s little white pillow mints and hard caramel candies that always adorned her kitchen counter. But these glass jewels don’t belong in a jar.
Look, Hunt and Touch But Don’t Take:
It may be tempting hunt these little sparkling treasures and take them home for the memory, but removing the glass from this state park is illegal. This is controversial to some, who feel the “garbage in, garbage out” rule should apply and during my visit, I noticed many people that seemed unaware of the law, or reluctant to follow it. As a result the glass has depleted a great amount from its beginning. Locals told me that just a few years earlier finding shards of reds, blues and yellows was easy. Now it is mostly white (windshields and common household jars) and amber (beer) with some sparkles of green (wine).
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling at Glass Beach:
Aside from leaving the glass for others enjoyment (not to mention keeping yourself from receiving a fine), there’s a little unknown reason to leave this trash gone treasure where you find it. What was once destroying the waters, is now actually feeding it. I’m told that the glass actually releases minerals that are creating a unique underwater marine environment. And if you’re brave enough to endure the cold water, it’s a beautiful spot for scuba diving or snorkeling. That gives new meaning to the phrase “From trash to treasure.” Read more about diving at Glass Beach on LeisurePro.com.
Where are these Hidden Beaches of Glass:
You can access Glass Beach by taking Fort Bragg’s Main Street (Highway 1) and then head west on Elm Street. The beach area is marked well with signs. Park at the parking lot at the end of Elm Street, and walk on the path towards the ocean. In the parking lot be sure to enjoy the playful tile wall created by local children.
There are 3 areas (each it’s own dump site) where the glass is. From the parking area, facing the ocean, follow the trail left (note that the beach immediately adjacent the parking lot does not have much glass), you’ll need to walk a bit to the sites. Known as site 1, 2 and 3, these beaches are located at the end of the path, and they do require a short and careful climb down the cliffs that surround the cove.
One beach (site two) has a steep wooden staircase that makes the climb down a bit easier. The other beach (site one) is 1/4 mile south of site two. It has only been accessible by foot for a year, when the State of California opened the Coastal Trail in Fort Bragg. Prior to that it was only accessible by canoe or kayak. Each unique area offers a spectacular view and plenty of glass to enjoy.
The Sea Glass Museum
While visiting the beach you won’t want to miss the Sea Glass Museum, one of the largest sea glass displays of it’s kind. It is located just south of Fort Bragg. Visitors will see a large variety of different glass shapes, colors and sizes that have been found on the beach, along with historical stories and scientific explanations (admission is free). If time allows, I recommend visiting the museum first and then heading to the beach to explore.
Remember, there are a several different beaches in the area with sea glass, and even beaches outside of MacKerricher State Park are worth taking time to venture to. It’s a wonderful place for photography, you can search for special colors, or cop a squat with a sandwich and watch the sunset. Please leave the plastic bag in the car though, and avoid the temptation of saying “It’s just one piece.” I’m hoping there’s still some left, the next time I visit.
Does anyone think that maybe the waves are just reducing the size of the glass overtime?? Seems stupid to blame it all on tourists taking it. What’s the harm? It will disappear eventually anyway?
Greg Bishop says
Excellent article! Years ago when I traveled to Glass Beach from southern California, I would collect glass, for my own use… before it became illegal. I would sit there on the smoothed glass-covered beach, collecting; but before I left, I went back thru the day’s find, and returned nearly half to the beach. I actually prefer the ‘white’/and or ‘clear glass, along with lighter blues and the occasional cobalt blue finds. My ‘treasures’ were light, easy to carry back to my car.
But on that same beach I saw that the same two women who had parked next to me earlier were filling bags heavy with beach glass. When I got back to my car I noticed their car (next to mine) had over a dozen USPS pre-addressed mailing boxes spread around the back seat. Each box was about 15″ x 13″ x 3″, and those I could see all had the same Virginia “mail-to” address. That’s the kind of greed that made any collecting illegal.
When I saw them again I struck-up a conversation, finding they were here from Virginia. I asked if they were shipping the beach glass they were collecting, and they immediately changed attitude from friendly to sheepish. I hoped to stop them. It wasn’t comfortable as I ‘shamed’ them for their greedy act, yet not surprisingly they headed right back to the beach.
I felt I had to at least make an attempt to let someone in authority know. I drove to the nearby state park and informed a ranger of the situation, along with their descriptions and license plate. Glass Beach was not part of any protected area then. I’d love to report the ranger followed-up, the two beach treasure thieves forced to dump the ill-gotten glass back onto Glass Beach, but I never saw them or their car for the rest of my visit.
Wow! That’s an interesting story. Food for you. Thanks for sharing.
When the glass is removed from the beach, it becomes dull and unappealing. It only sparkles when kept wet by the Pacific.