• We apologize for the somewhat convoluted sign-up process. Due to ever-more sophisticated attacks by chatbots, we had to increase our filtering in order to weed out AI while letting humans through. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one in order to keep the level of discourse on the forums authentic and useful. From the actual humans using WCP, thanks for your understanding!

Ocean Shores canals, Grays Harbor, WA 3 Dec 2022


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]

I spent a weekend in the town of Ocean Shores on Washington’s south coast, hoping to practice my surf launches and landings.

About my surfing, the less said, the better—it was more of a swimming session than a boating session—but I did discover something nearby that any kayaker can enjoy: the network of freshwater canals that run through the town of Ocean Shores.

00 route map labelled.jpg

00 Route map. Public launch points are at the north end of the north lake (Duck Lake) and the south end of the south lake (Lake Minard).

Snaking through the heart of town, largely invisible from the main streets, is a twenty-one-mile-long complex of canals and lakes. The lakes are natural features. The canals were excavated over the course of several years beginning in 1960 as part of a private real estate development project.

The idea, according to promotional materials of the time, was that homeowners would board their yachts right in their own backyards, motor down the network of canals to a boat lock, and be lowered into the saltwater of Grays Harbor. From there, they could sail across the Grays Harbor bar to the open ocean and onward to anywhere in the world. It would be like Washington’s own, miniature version of the east coast’s Intracoastal Waterway, except better because Washington doesn’t get hurricanes.

Some 12,000 lots were platted. One of the stockholders in the development scheme was recently retired Washington State Attorney General and Chairman of the Board of State Land Commissioners Donald Eastvold. One of Attorney General Eastvold’s final acts in office had been to issue a legal memorandum authorizing the sale of state-owned oceanfront land in Ocean Shores to a local cattle rancher. Three years later, by some amazing coincidence, that same cattle rancher turned around and deeded that same property to none other than Don Eastvold and his newly formed real estate development company.

Sadly for the ordinary folks who bought lots in the new development, the boat lock to the ocean never materialized. Neither did the glamorous casino that was supposed to come if Washington State had legalized gambling. Instead, the town of Ocean Shores entered a decades-long economic slump. The real estate development company tanked. The company first stopped building its road network, then stopped paying its taxes, then stopped paying its employees, and then filed for bankruptcy.

The failure of the development scheme left real scars in Ocean Shores. Even today, the median household income in Ocean Shores remains forty percent lower than the statewide median. The only casino in the area belongs to the Quinault Indian Nation, and it’s not what you would call glamorous. The Quinault also own the only boat access to the ocean, in the form of a small, decrepit marina at the south end of town. It does not connect to the canals.

What about Don Eastvold? Oh, no worries about Don. He sold out his interest in the real estate development company and moved to Palm Springs shortly before the whole scheme went belly-up. Of course, the American people learned their lesson from this sordid episode and never again elected a corrupt real estate developer named Donald to public office.

All this real estate sleaze did at least bequeath Ocean Shores a lovely network of freshwater canals. Over the years, this artificial environment has matured into a full-fledged ecosystem. In the winter, the canals are home to a great variety of ducks. In the course of a few hours, I saw redheads, canvasbacks, greater and lesser scaup, mallards, gadwalls, American coots, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, common mergansers, Canada geese, horned grebes, double-crested cormorants, and glaucous-winged gulls.

01 Kayaking Ocean Shores canals.JPG

01 Kayaking Ocean Shores canals. Even on a day of twenty-knot winds, the waters in the canals were protected.

02 Street signs in Ocean Shores canals.JPG

02 Street signs in the Ocean Shores canal network. It is surprisingly easy to get turned around in this maze of twisty passages, all alike.

03 Ocean wins sign Grand Canal.JPG

03 “Ocean Wins.” An all-too-ominous sign in a town that, according to models, will be completely inundated in the event of a tsunami, with one hundred percent of homes, businesses, and government facilities expected to be destroyed.

04 Common goldeneye Ocean Shores canals.JPG

04 Common goldeneye, Ocean Shores canals. Many of the ducks were in their eclipse or basic plumages.

05 Common mergansers Duck Lake.JPG

05 Common mergansers, Duck Lake. This handsome species is always wary of approaching humans.

06 Mallards Duck Lake.JPG

06 Mallards, Ocean Shores canals. Although the ducks are not hunted within Ocean Shores city limits, they were still visibly uncomfortable with my presence.

07 Canvasbacks Duck Lake.JPG

07 Canvasbacks, four male and one female, Duck Lake. These diving ducks are winter residents in Washington.

08 Greater scaup Ocean Shores Canals.JPG

08 Greater scaup, Ocean Shores canals. This female bird is in eclipse, but she can be distinguished from the lesser scaup by her more rounded head and the thicker black stripe on the tip of her bill.

One of the most remarkable things about Ocean Shores was the sheer quantity of mule deer in town. Over the two days I spent kicking around the canals and ocean beaches, I must have seen a hundred or more deer. Cars often had to slow down or even stop to let herds of deer cross the roads.

The deer found their way into people’s backyards along the canals, too. Several times, I would paddle around a bend only to come face-to-face with a deer grazing by the water’s edge. They had no fear whatsoever.

There were no other boats abroad on this cold winter’s day. Almost all the homes had kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards stacked up beside their docks, but no one else was paddling. A few of the houses also had small pontoon party boats, frequently adorned with pirate flags and alcohol slogans on the one hand or American flags and Jesus slogans on the other.

09 Male deer Ocean Shores backyard.JPG

09 Mule deer, Ocean Shores backyard. In a few more weeks, this handsome fellow will shed those magnificent antlers.

10 Kayaking Ocean Shores canal.JPG

10 Kayaking Ocean Shores canals. These passages must be spectacular when the alders and cottonwoods have their autumn colors.

11 Party boat Ocean Shores canal.JPG

11 Pontoon boat, Ocean Shores canals. Some of the vessels looked homemade.

12 Paddling up Ocean Shores canal.JPG

12 Paddling up Friendship Passage, Ocean Shores. Even the wider passages were still so narrow that I frightened most of the ducks into flight.

13 North end of Duck Lakes Ocean Shores.JPG

13 North end of Duck Lake, Ocean Shores. Almost none of these waterways are visible to the casual tourists who congregate along the beachfront boulevards.

It sometimes happens that adverse weather (or higher than expected surf) forces me to abandon a trip plan and find some other place to paddle. The change can be fortuitous, as here. Were it not for the strong surf on the outer coast, I never would have discovered this delight, obscure little corner of the state.


[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]
I always knew that something smelled bad at Ocean Shores but I always wrote it off to rotting sea life.
Quite the history lesson! Too bad, as a general citizenry, we don't seem to learn from History.

I can imagine riding the surf took FULL attention. But isn't life fun - going from the sphincter-tightening surfing experience to paddling down a canal with mule deer calmly munching lunch - all in one day.
What a fascinating place. I'd never heard of it before. Always interesting to read about towns which spring out of a developers imagination. Seems like quite a few end up being more modest than originally envisioned.

Looks like a good place to practice swimming too. :)