There aren’t many publicly owned spaces along the Oregon coast offering miles of undeveloped, unadorned yet striking scenery. One of the few, however, is right here on the Tillamook Coast.
Ironically, Bayocean Peninsula, also known as Bayocean Spit, which today is a nearly 4-mile-long finger of tree-covered sand separating the Pacific Ocean from Tillamook Bay well loved by hikers, birders and clammers, was once home to a high-end resort promoters referred to as “the Atlantic City of the West.”
A Kansas City real estate developer began constructing what they called “Bay Ocean Park” in 1906 on the 600-acre peninsula. Within a year the land boasted a hotel, general store and 4 miles of paved, lighted roads.
Over the next few years, Bay Ocean Park saw the addition of a saltwater natatorium complete with heated pool, electric wave machine, dance pavilion and private dressing rooms; post office; bowling alley; tennis court; golf links; Methodist church; shooting range; movie theater; newspaper; bakery; and public school. The hotel featured automatic fire sprinklers and fine dining.
A yacht ferried prospective lot buyers and investors from Portland to Astoria to the spit, where vacation accommodations ranging from small cabins to grand houses lined the landscape.
However, the man-made grandeur wasn’t to last, as in 1917, shortly after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a jetty on the north end of the mouth of Tillamook Bay, ocean currents shifted and the sea began to shear away at Bay Ocean Park at an alarming rate. By 1920, the erosion was too marked to ignore, and by 1928, many of the resort’s homes had toppled onto the shore or into the ocean. The “Nat,” as it was affectionately known, closed in 1932. Residents rescued the elementary school building by moving it to Cape Meares, where it continues to serve as a community center.
The post office finally shut down in 1953, one year after a storm breached the spit, turning it into an island. In 1960, the last house left fell into the ocean.
Many of those who owned property on the spit abandoned it, resulting in mass foreclosures by Tillamook County government.
Today, Tillamook County still owns much of Bayocean, managing and operating the land as a primitive park. In 2014, the Tillamook County Planning Commission denied an application to develop a 23-acre, privately owned section of the peninsula into an “eco-resort,” citing a lack of basic infrastructure and the fact that it did not meet “recreation management” zoning criteria among its reasons for doing so.
Bayocean Spit is located on Bayocean Road, about 7 miles north of Highway 131. Learn more about hiking the peninsula here.