There are three Glass Beach sites in Fort Bragg where trash was dumped into ocean between 1906 and 1967. Glass Beach Site two and three (1943-1949) are located at the end of the path that begins on the corner of Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive.
These sites are accessible by foot and by a short climb down the cliffs surrounding the beach. The glass has been shaped and rounded by waves into circular pieces with time, making for a surprising beach landscape.
Part of MacKerricher State Park, Glass Beach is a visitor favorite and the array of tide pools that inhabit is a delight for both children and adults to find crabs, mollusks and water-dwelling plants.
Glass Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the world, not only because nature’s beauty, but because time and the throbbing surf have corrected one of man’s mistakes. For less than 20 years, starting around 1949, this cove that is now called “Glass Beach” was where town folk would toss their trash.
It is hard to believe these days, but back then people dumped all kinds of refuse straight into the ocean, which of course included lots of glass. Thankfully, in 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board realized this mistake and a new dump away from the ocean were created.
Now, almost 50 years later, Mother Nature has cleansed and reclaimed this beach. Years of pounding waves and tidal action have crushed rounded and polished tons of glass and piled it onto the beach.
There is actually much more than that here in the middle and first sites. The middle was active from 1943 to 1949. Fort Bragg began ocean dumping in 1906 after the big earthquake that destroyed San Francisco also destroyed the center of town in Fort Bragg. All that refuse was bulldozed into the ocean at the foot of Pine Street and that site was used until 1943.
The historical aspect cannot be ignored. In years gone by, it was not uncommon for small towns to dump garbage into the ocean. This beach has at least four different areas that were, at one time, the town dump.
The oldest of these, to the extreme south of the main beach and currently with mildly difficult access, is more laden with ‘treasures’ than the rest of the beach. This one probably started as the town dump much earlier than the recorded date of 1949.
This one, in all probability, closed that year. Glass Beach has become very popular with tourists, many of whom scour the beach for the most attractive pieces of glass they can find which they plan to take home as mementoes. Ironically, where it had once been illegal to dump glass on the beach – now, it is against the law to remove it.
There is another in California (Benicia) and one in the Hawaiian bay of Hanapepe. Most curiously perhaps, there is one that exists at Guantanamo Bay. They are all testament to the power of nature to correct the mistakes made by humanity.