From Trash to Treasure: Glass Beach, California
By Susan C. Kim, Coastal Living
A secret beach lures visitors in the know to Fort Bragg, an unpretentious town in Northern California. So much sea glass smothers this hidden shoreline that you might think a truck unloaded shimmering shards all over its rocky coves, and that’s not too far from the truth.
Only a dirt path indicates that the end of the rainbow lies beyond.
Shimmy down to the shore’s edge. Before long, you’ll be standing on it like a leprechaun on a pile of gold coins, dancing a little jig. Emerald, ocher, amber, and ruby bits of ground glass sparkle beneath your feet and in the tumbling tide, where years of surf have polished them to a muffled shine. A handful of the stuff might reveal a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, but also some seaweed, rusty metal pieces and a spark plug or two.
What is now called Glass Beach, began as this city’s garbage dump.
Early in the 20th century, residents of Fort Bragg pitched their household waste, glass, kitchen appliances, and sometimes whole cars, over these cliffs, then owned by Union Lumber Company and known locally as “The Dumps.”
Wilbur Lawson, 83, of the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society, remembers poking around the junkyard as a kid during the 1930s. “There was always a fire lit in order to reduce the trash pile,” he says, which might explain how that chinaware melded into a slab of solid rock. “This was a playground for us,” he recalls. Despite rumors, he says a glass-bottle factory never existed on this coastline.
By the early sixties, some attempts were made to control what was dumped, and dumping of any toxic items was banned. Finally in 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board realized what a mistake it was and plans were begun for a new dump away from the ocean.
Now, over 40 years later, Mother Nature has reclaimed this beach. The pounding surf began to heal the shore over the next several decades, wave action have deposited tons of polished glass, grinding the castoffs into the glittering treasure that now covers the beach. Since then, the place has become a beachcombers’ paradise and a living science lesson in one.
Then in 2003 the state bought the 38-acre property for $2.48 million. So now Glass Beach, just south of Pudding Creek, is part of MacKerricher State Park.
The park brochure warns that “it is illegal to remove or harm plants, animals or other natural features.”
But at Glass Beach, this can be the beginning of a grand debate: Are broken bottles a natural feature? When does sandy glass become glassy sand?
Fort Bragg, Glass Beach