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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Yaquina Head was nearly quarried into the sea

Jonathan Bourne Jr.
Quarry Cove, on the side of Yaquina Head, on a calm early-spring day
in 2013. (Photo: F.J.D. John)
EDITOR'S NOTE: The subject of this column was revisited in a longer and more detailed column published in June 2017, which you will find here. I recommend it in preference to the version on this page; the newer column is thoroughly rewritten and re-researched and is of considerably better quality than this one, which was written during Offbeat Oregon History's first full year.

Also: The original version of this story referred to the wheelchair-accessible tidepools as being a current project. Although they were still partly in place in 2009 when this article was written, they had already been given up on by that time, and at the BLM's request I have updated the story and headline to reflect that.

Next time you’re in the Agate Beach area of Newport, take a look to the north at Yaquina Head.

It’s hard to imagine the Newport area without it. But without intervention from the federal government, Yaquina Head would have been gone by now – leaving only a small island with Yaquina Head Lighthouse on it to show where its tip had once been.

Because that didn't happen, Yaquina Head is now a popular tourist destination and park — featuring the only wheelchair-accessible tidepools in the country.

Here’s the story:

Yaquina Head’s basalt had been quarried since the 1930s. But after the war, in the 1950s, a Newport gravel company staked a mining claim on it — it was, at the time, federal land.

Jonathan Bourne Jr.
Yaquina Head Light, as it once looked. The grassy area in the foreground is
gone now, replaced by Quarry Cove. (Postcard image)

The claim was staked under the Mining Law of 1872; it gave the company the right to extract mineral deposits from the head; and, in this case, the mineral deposits were the head itself. But most folks didn't really expect the company was serious about mining it. After all, this was prime oceanfront property.

Later, the government sold the head to the mining company for less than $3 an acre – an incredible bargain. Even then, the property was worth a pile – maybe more so than today, because it was far easier to get permission to build houses back then.

But the company didn’t build houses there. It started digging gravel. Not much at first, but by the mid-1970s company owner Bob Weinert was hauling hundreds of tons of the head off every workday, with the help of a staff of 25 employees.

That’s about the time things came to the attention of the state of Oregon, which started looking for ways to keep Weinert and his crew from quarrying Yaquina Head right into the sea – a process that Weinert, in a 1982 interview, estimated would take another 15 years.Weinert said by then the headland would be entirely gone, reduced to nothing but a tiny island where the tip of the head is now, with Yaquina Head Lighthouse perched on its top.

Jonathan Bourne Jr.
Looking out to sea in Quarry Cove. The rocky "island" in the center of the
frame is one of the tidepools . (Photo: F.J.D. John)

The answer turned out to be rich with irony. Not only could the state not stop Weinert, but it also could not stop buying gravel from his quarry for use on local roads. That’s because the state was required to take the lowest bid for gravel, and since Weinert ran the only local quarry, his was always the lowest bid.

The dilemma was finally solved by some quick work in Washington, D.C., by then-Sen. Mark O. Hatfield. In 1980, the federal government named the head an outstanding natural area, and over the next five years the Bureau of Land Management bought and traded to acquire the rest of the head.

Today, the gravel quarry is gone, reflected only in the name of Quarry Cove – and in one other thing.

Quarry Cove is a divot in the side of the head, blasted out by the quarry operators. After the BLM took over, it turned the cove into the nation’s only wheelchair-accessible tidepools.

That effort was not a success, because the ocean kept trying to silt the place in with sand. Finally, the BLM gave up and let the sea have its way, settling for keeping Quarry Cove as a wheelchair-accessible beach. But it’s an interesting silver lining to what, for nearby residents, seemed like a pretty dark cloud 30 years ago.

(Sources: Sullivan, William. Hiking Oregon’s History. Eugene: Navillus, 2006; Eugene Register-Guard archives: Dec. 5, 1976; April 5, 1982; and Dec. 27, 1985)