In an era that places an urgent emphasis on environmental stewardship and recycling, it’s hard to believe that a beautiful Pacific beach could have been treated as a dumping ground just 50 years earlier. But that was the reality of Glass Beach, named because residents of nearby Fort Bragg, California dumped years-worth of garbage onto the sand. Over time, the waves smoothed much of the garbage into pretty sea glass, turning the beach into an unofficial, and somewhat ironic, tourist destination.
The trashy tale began in the early twentieth century when local residents discarded all manner of waste, from glass to household appliances and even cars. People began referring to this open landfill as The Dumps, and when the rubbish heap got too big, it was simply set alight.
In 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board closed the beach, then owned by the Union Lumber Company, and initiated a series of cleanup programmes to reverse the environmental damage. Larger objects such as abandoned vehicles were removed, but many smaller items, including glass, escaped the cleanup mission.
Over the next several decades, nature launched her own cleansing operation as the pounding waves wore the discarded glass down into smooth, colourful pieces that resembled a blanket of jewels strewn across the sand. For that reason, the 38-acre Glass Beach was purchased in 2002 and is now part of MacKerricher State Park.
In an ironic twist, this former environmental hazard has become a beauty spot for the same reason that once made it an eyesore. During the cleanup operation, it became apparent to California State Park officials that people were taking glass as souvenirs. As a result, removing the strange treasures of Glass Beach is now strictly prohibited.