In the early 1900s, Fort Bragg residents threw their household garbage over the cliffs above what is now Glass Beach. It is hard to imagine this happening today, but back then people dumped all kinds of refuse straight into the ocean, including old cars, and their household garbage, which of course included lots of glass.
Beginning in 1949, the area around Glass Beach became a public dump, and locals referred to it as “The Dumps.” Sometimes fires were lit to reduce the size of the trash pile (up to 30 feet high), however in 1967, the city leaders closed the area. Various cleanup programs were undertaken through the years to try to correct the damage, but without success.
Over the next 30 years the pounding waves cleaned the beach, by breaking down everything but glass and pottery. The pounding waves washed the trash up and down, back and forth. Tons of polished, broken glass were created by the pounding surf. These smoothened, coloured glass particles then settled along the sea shore in millions, and so a magnificent beach was formed. The name was changed from, “The Dump” to what we currently know as, “The Glass Beach”.
The sea glass that was created is the product of a very long and interesting process. It can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to make sea glass, the name for any piece of glass that finds its way to the ocean and tumbles around in the water long enough to frost and smooth its surface. Once it makes its way into the ocean, the glass is broken up into shards and is tumbled around in the water, where sand and other rocks act like sandpaper to smooth out its rough edges. Sometimes as the sea glass is passed through fire, it becomes “fire glass”, the rarest of sea glass with certain “inclusions”, just like precious gems.
In 1998, the private owner of the property determined that Glass Beach should belong to the public and in 2002 it became part of MacKerricher State Park, open to the public.
Within a period of few years the Glass Beach won fame, attracting a large number of tourists every year. Way back in time, people wanted to dump their glass products on this shore; now they would try to get one of these pieces to take home as a souvenir. It is ironic but true that where once it was illegal to dispose the glass on the shore, it now is a crime to remove it.
Visiting the Glass Beach today is a unique experience. What makes it even more remarkable, are the sounds produced by the glass pebbles as they are being washed away by the gentle waves.