PORT TOWNSEND — After the collapse of a portion of the bluff below a popular teen hangout last weekend, city authorities are discouraging anyone from getting anywhere close to the ledge of the approximately 300-foot drop.
But these efforts might be futile.
“We’ve tried to keep people away from this area for years, but they always end up throwing away anything we put there,” said Port Townsend Development Services Director Rick Sepler.
“We put up signs, and they are taken down,” Sepler said. “We put a telephone pole on its side to keep people away, and they rolled it over the bluff.”
At about 6 p.m. Sunday, a large portion of the bluff below Elmira Street Park, also known as the “End of the World” to generations of local teens, collapsed and fell into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, creating a plume of sand and smoke.
No one was in the path of the small avalanche when it occurred.
The End of the World viewpoint at the end of Elmira Street is reached through several yards of underbrush that are now set off by a “park closed” sign.
At the bluff, a handmade sign saying, “Danger. Slide area,” is attached to a length of police tape and situated about 30 feet from the edge.
A portion of a bluff sheering off is a normal part of nature, according to a geologist who is familiar with the area.
“There have been some larger slides in the last few years, but in most cases, the bluffs erode at a rate of 3 or 4 inches per year,” said Jim Johannessen, owner of Coastal Geological Services in Bellingham.
“North Beach has a high wave energy but also has a cobble beach, which slows the process,” Johannessen said.
Sepler said bluffs naturally gravitate to an “angle of repose” of 45 degrees, making the bluffs adjacent to the Boat Haven a little safer and less subject to mass erosion.
Other bluffs such as those overlooking Water Street and along North Beach seek this balance.
While erosion can’t be stopped, it can be slowed by steering drainage away from the area to keep the earth as dry as possible, Johannessen said.
“You can prevent some erosion by preventing water from flowing directly toward the bluff,” he said.
“You can also slow the process by building bulkheads, but you really aren’t going to prevent the erosion entirely,” Johannessen said.
The city has no such plans now.
Sepler said permitting processes have become more strict for new construction adjacent to any bluffs.
“People talk about the 100-foot setback for new construction,” Sepler said.
“This is why it is necessary,” he said, adding that he understood why people want to get as close to the bluffs as possible to maximize the view.
And it is the view that makes the End of the World special, according to 2008 Chimacum High School graduate Tristan Stoch.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Soch said.
“On a cloudy day, it can seem you are on the edge of existence.
“It was a special place for us when we were growing up.”
While the End of the World has been a gathering spot for area teenagers for years, there have been no serious or fatal accidents at the site, to Sepler’s knowledge.
Stoch first visited the site when he was about 14 years old and still returns to show it off to others as a place of local interest, “sort of like taking them to Fort Worden,” he said.
Stoch used the bluff as a location for his documentary “Clarity,” a cautionary tale about teen drug abuse.
He said he doesn’t expect the latest instance to discourage visits to the End of the World.
“This is a special place to be,” he said,
“We never felt any danger when we were out here.”
He said the site was immortalized in a 2004 song by Kimya Dawson, who wrote “Hadlock Padlock” after spending time in Port Townsend.
The lyrics include the lines: “Please do me a favor when you go to Pennysaver/Get a half-rack of lucky for the girls/two roast beef mighty bites, a pack of Old Gold Lights/and meet us at the End of the World.”
The song’s final verse attempts to capture the feeling of standing at world’s end.
“I’ll be standing on the cliff with the sunset in my eyes/I’ll be too insignificant to feel the need to lie/I wonder if this climbing that you city people do/ever leads you to a place with such a pretty view.”
________Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.