When you’re the new kid in town, you can never be sure when it’s okay to speak up.
Well, I’m new – no question - having moved to Cannon Beach two summers ago. On the other hand, having graduated from high school the month before Neil Armstrong took his “one small step”, I’m hardly a kid anymore.
Anyway, I’m going to take a chance that I’ve waited long enough. You see, I love Cannon Beach. I hope to stay here for the long run. That said, from my first weeks here, I’ve noticed that Cannon Beach has a big problem with day-trippers.
That first summer, I tried to be understanding. The hills were on fire, and folks up in Portland were inhaling smoke. If someone had a day off to seek clean ocean air, who was I to complain?
Last summer, I felt less tolerant – but I tried to grin and bear it. I discovered some quiet walks, away from the crowds. I learned when to run my errands without getting stuck in traffic. Being a conversationalist, I derived considerable pleasure from having an occasional meal at the fire-pit of a local spot and meeting out-of-towners.
This summer, though, is different. Every visitor emerging from a car crazily parked along the hillside above Sunset; every pedestrian dodging across Hemlock fifty feet from a crosswalk; everyone in line for coffee at my favorite spot – is a potential carrier of The Virus. Especially the ones who don’t wear masks. I can’t help thinking of them as a mortal threat.
But of course, they’re just people, doing what people ordinary people do when they live a few hours from the coast. They’re day-tripping. You can hardly blame them. After all, it’s basically free.
Except that this year, we’re all aware that the throngs who descend on our little town, on any sunny day, will inevitably include unwitting carriers of deadly illness. Which has finally motivated this new kid to suggest that it’s time we did something about it.
Now, I understand that our local economy is built around the “season”, and the visitors it brings. But not all visitors are created equal. The folks who come down for a week – or even just a few nights – bring much-needed revenue into Cannon Beach. We need these guests. Couldn’t possibly do without them.
But what, exactly, do the day-trippers bring?
I don’t know if a study has been done locally, but a lot of other places around the world have begun to look seriously into the question of over-tourism. On The Guardian app – my go-to source for world news – you can find a brilliant June 10 podcast entitled “The End of Tourism”, by Christopher de Bellaigue. Bellaigue’s piece focuses on Venice, Italy, a city which has lost over half its population – from 120,000 down to 55,000 – in the past three decades, largely owing to over-tourism. Beautiful Venice is becoming a ghost town – a fact which became apparent when the pandemic abruptly halted tourism. The major culprit? Cheap flights and cruise ships, disgorging hordes of tourists, who mob the streets and shops for a few hours and then depart, having spent a few euros on cheap meals – and on souvenirs manufactured half a world away.
It’s a stunning, heart-breaking piece of journalism.
Now, Cannon Beach is not Venice. But every year, the daily influx of here-and-gone visitors will grow, as Portland and its suburbs grow. And, as my Dad used to say, “They ain’t building any more beaches.” Ever-growing demand. Constant supply. You do the math.
The bottom line? Day-trippers, as individuals and families, are just folks. They aren’t, in themselves, bad. But in perpetually growing numbers, they constitute a serious threat to our little town. It’s time we started thinking about our options.
The present pandemic has created a rare opportunity to raise the question of day-trippers and to seek solutions. I have a few ideas, including limiting the availability of all-day parking and developing a pedestrian-bicycle-and-golf-cart-only trail through town. I’d be happy to discuss these – and other, better ideas – with anyone who’s interested.
For now, while not much good can be said about The Virus, it has given us an opportunity to look at tourism from a fresh perspective.
Let’s not miss this opportunity.
Rick Gray, Cannon Beach