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Puget Sound Public Beaches

  • A short history of public beaches.

    When the original thirteen colonies became independent and self governing, the founders adopted land use laws based on the English legal system. This meant that the shores and beds of navigable waters were considered property of the colonies. Upon admission to the union, each state retained these rights.

    The state of Washington was no exception. When the Washington state constitution was adopted in November 11, 1889, the state asserted ownership of the beds and shores of navigable waters up to and including the line of ordinary high water (mean high water.)

  • All tidelands were publicly owned.

    At that time, all tidelands of the state were publicly owned. However, Washington's state constitution contained no provision allowing upland property owners any rights of access to saltwater for transportation, fish and shellfish, propagation, and other water-oriented industry. To address this situation and provide revenue for the state, the 1889-1890 legislature authorized the sale of public tidelands to private individuals.

  • Sixty percent of Washington's public beaches were sold.

    During the ensuing years, approximately 60 percent of Washington's state owned beaches were sold before the practice was discontinued in 1971. Many Puget Sound beaches were sold during this time.

    In the early 1900's, many public tidelands were sold and diked to boost oyster growth. Few remnants of the dikes remain.

    Photo courtesy Shadow Catchers, Olympia.

  • 1,300 miles of Washington state's beaches are now public.

    Today, 1,300 miles of saltwater tidelands are state-owned. About 300 miles of beach, including Pacific coastal beaches, are managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission or the Department of Fish and Wildlife. About 1,000 miles of state beaches are managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

    Tolmie State Park, Thurston County.

    Related Links

    State Aquatic Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is steward of about 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands. 

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