Glass Beach Walking Away Piece By Piece In Visitors’ Pockets, Or Is It?

Elaine Radford - Author

Aug. 23 2017, Updated 2:48 a.m. ET

Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, California in Mendocino County has become the center of a mini-controversy about the collection of sea glass.

With the summer season now in full swing, Travis Burke reported for GrindTV that the popular tourist attraction is vanishing piece by piece as souvenir hunters and jewelry-makers cart away the iconic water-tumbled glass pebbles that make up the beach. According to a sign posted at the Glass Beach site in MacKerricher State Park, glass collecting is prohibited.

Burke said that the sign is ignored and that the glass is walking away in collector’s buckets. Therefore, the beach is vanishing because California park rangers aren’t enforcing the law.

However, looking deeper, the story isn’t that clear.

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Apparently, collecting on Glass Beach isn’t prohibited. It’s just discouraged. The sign may be there to discourage anybody who believes everything they read — and to be confidently ignored by the rest.

An odd claim? Maybe. A March visitor to the site, Ginger B. Collins, posted a trip report which included this comment:

“It’s not strictly enforced, but meant to deter those who have in the past towed away buckets of glass and reduced the beauty of the beach as well as the quantity of material.”

And the city of Fort Bragg seems to actually promote the collection of the sea glass. On their website, they say:

“Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park is one of Fort Bragg’s most popular destinations for visitors. Picking up a handful of beautiful sea glass is irresistible and the main reason folks come here.”

If you’re still worried, there are also two more distant Glass Beaches in the area that aren’t on state property.

And is the state Glass Beach at risk of being hauled away by collectors? Again, it seems to be a maybe.

Glass Beach apparently appeared sometime between the late 1940s and 1967, when there was a nearby dump site for glass bottles, which were broken up and rounded by natural sea action. So the pounding of the waves here is obviously powerful enough to create the smooth pebbles relatively quickly on a geological scale.

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If necessary, more bottles could be dumped to restart the natural processes. On a site where the citizens of Fort Bragg are hotly debating the topic, a local collector has proposed that the city start a new program to replenish the glass:

“Right now glass that can’t be recycled here is trucked to a landfill in Sparks, Nevada, at a huge environmental and economic expense. Most of it gets recycled there by Gallo and others for their wine bottles, but the transportation cost is huge as glass is very heavy.”

So a new glass dump might solve the recycling problem on a more local level — and keep Glass Beach from disappearing.

However, other citizens angrily object to replenishment, saying that it will reduce the value of the natural sea glass already there.

And, no, I’m not joking. A burning issue of the day among many stone and glass artists is the problem of people making “fake” sea glass in their rock tumblers. To some of us, hey, it’s all fake. It’s glass.

But to the true aficionado, then if it doesn’t come off a beach, it can’t be sold as beach glass.

Hence the value of the “natural” Glass Beach specimens made from glass that was dumped in 1949. Apparently, if it’s dumped in 2019, it just won’t be the same.

I really don’t have the answer to this question. For me, I made a decision for myself a long time ago. I no longer collect. I’ve got enough. If I need more, I do swaps with people who have too much in their collection.

But I make no judgement about other people who still enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

What are your thoughts on collection sites like the one at Glass Beach?

[Glass Beach photo by Jef Poskanzer via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons]


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