Trash or Treasure?

Welcome to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California! While Glass Beach may sound like a painful place for a barefoot stroll, it’s actually a beach full of smooth wave-rounded glass in every color imaginable. How did Fort Bragg end up with a beach where there’s more glass than sand?

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Several separate coastal sites between 1904 and 1967, were used as the common local dump. Residents dumped everything from vehicles and appliances, to glass and other waste. After 1967 the sites were cleaned up by various agencies and organizations. They were eventually sold to the State of California and are now a part of MacKerricher State Park.

While the glass makes for a spectacular view, it's easy to see how the glass arrived. At the second site, large conglomerate masses are still found along the cliffs. Upon closer inspection of these masses you’ll find everything from: an alternator, old bike tires, hoses, a pocketknife, and of course various glass items. The sea has taken all of these items and solidified them into giant brown masses. The local sea life appears to have adapted quickly to these masses. The crevices are full of crabs and snails, while larger impressions have become makeshift tidal pools.

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As Glass Beach gains popularity, several articles have been published claiming that in a matter of years, Glass Beach will no longer exist due to the massive amounts of glass being collected daily by visitors. Indeed, there was a lot of glass, as well as a lot of people combing through the ankle deep piles in search of the perfect piece. On our visit we met visitors and locals with two schools of thought. On one hand some of the people we met viewed collecting the sea glass as “Trashing your Trash.” "The glass wouldn’t be there if humans hadn’t put it there first," so essentially by this thought, they’re just cleaning up the beach. On the other hand, some visitors and locals alike view taking the glass the same way we view picking a wildflower, that by taking the sea glass we aren’t leaving what we find for others to enjoy.

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Perplexed by this dilemma, we referred to the local land manager, the California State Parks. Their official stance is: “All park cultural features are protected by law and may not be removed or disturbed, including glass found at Glass Beach.”

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So what do you think, trash or treasure?

Until next time,
Nick and Court

Leave No Trace’s Courtney and Nick Bierschbach are part of the 2014 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.