Two surfers returned to shore to find four sandals by the blanket where their girlfriends had been sitting.
"They must have taken a walk," said the tall one to his fellow wave rider.
Who could blame the young ladies for succumbing to the allure of the sandy beach? As they prove, even sandals can seem too confining for this stretch of the Oregon Coast contained within Crissey Field State Park. With a beach this unspoiled, and sand this soft, barefoot is the way to go. Open since December 2008, the state's newest coastal park extends from the California/Oregon border to the Winchuck River. In addition to paths leading to the beach from both ends of the visitor center, the property features trails through the wetlands and along the river. The park is strictly day use, with no camping facilities. Although Crissey Field encompasses just 40 acres, officials are hoping it makes a big statement.
"If you're heading north [on Highway 101], it's your 'welcome to Oregon, home of the public beach,' " said Chris Havel, Associate Director of Oregon Parks and Recreation. "If you're heading south, Crissey is your last chance before California to take advantage of this Oregon tradition and really just enjoy a great beach, wetland and dune."
Although the coastline in Oregon is public, the state still needed to acquire the land accessing the beach at Crissey Field. It did that through a trade with a private timber company in 1993. Resources to develop the acreage into a park, however, did not become available until the 21st century.
"Lottery funds allowed us to open the property to the public, while protecting the wetlands and sensitive plants at the same time, " explained Havel, who noted that the park gained instant favor with the locals.
"If you live there south of Brookings," he said, "it's almost like a neighborhood park, where you have plenty of room to walk your dog, surf a bit, fish the river. When you put everything together, you can see why Crissey was an attractive proposition when we acquired it. That's a lot of action on just 40 acres."
On the same spring day that the surfers lost their girlfriends, Marie, a Brookings resident and self-described "coastee," sat on a drift log eating sandwiches with her husband. "It's a lovely walking beach and not crowded," she said. "And for a north wind, it doesn't blow too much."
Her eyes followed a young couple strolling along the tide line with their golden retriever. Suddenly, the dog charged a resting flock of seagulls, scaring the birds into taking flight. The screeching of the panic-stricken birds broke the calm of this sunny afternoon. But soon the commotion ended, and the lulling rhythm of the surf played like music to the ears of the 10 or so people on the beach.
On this day, there were more washed-up trees on the beach — some of them monumental in size — than humans.
Volunteer park host Doyle Gaskarth of Lethbridge, Alberta, recalled a morning in early April when Crissey Field actually attracted a crowd. A small army of people showed up after a wicked storm, hoping to find treasure.
"It was a beachcomber's paradise," said Gaskarth, who joined the horde and collected a Russian whiskey bottle and Japanese float from the debris left by the raging sea.
"What was most impressive was how everyone filled up trash bags and helped clean up the beach," he added.
Officials expect greater numbers of folks to stop at the park once the visitor center is operating full-time as a Travel Oregon center, offering maps, brochures and other travel information to motorists along the highway. The building, which looms above the dunes like a stylish beach house, is a model of green technology. A series of posters in the lobby describes its many energy-saving features.
When summer temperatures hit triple digits in the Rogue Valley, residents could pack lunch in a cooler, hop in the car and make Crissey Field the destination for a refreshing day trip.
"It's important that people be able to reach the beach for relaxation, play and to appreciate the fact that the beach in Oregon is public," Havel said. "That's a rarity."
Picnic tables on the back deck of the visitor center afford sparkling views of the beach and the rolling waves beyond. The restrooms are open even when the main part of the facility, which includes the Travel Oregon counter and a United States Forest Service office, is closed off.
After you have eaten lunch, a southbound walk along the beach is the best way to go. Northbound walkers must cross the Winchuck River, which could be tricky, depending on the tide.
Heading south, there is nothing to stop you from sauntering for miles once you have crossed into the Golden State.
So kick off your shoes, your sandals, your sneakers or your boots — and enjoy this latest addition to Oregon's coastal playgrounds.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.