MOCLIPS — The annual rope-tugging contest between the residents of Moclips and Pacific Beach was held once again last Saturday at the main beach approach here. While just up the beach, another tug-of-war is taking place, this one over a long-used beach access trail and park dedicated to arguably Moclips’ most historic figure.
The dispute centers over what locals have long called Lycan Park, a small space between two properties at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Fourth Street. In 2003, with permission from Grays Harbor County, the park was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edward Lycan and his ill-fated Moclips Beach Hotel, which was washed away into the sea after successive storms that started about 1911.
At the time volunteers finished the park, complete with a commemorative plaque, Lee Marriot of the Moclips by the Sea Historical Society and Museum of the North Beach wrote this for the North Coast News:
“Today, there is very little remaining to signify that a man and his grand dream of a Moclips By the Sea was ever here except in old pictures and newspaper stories. Now, however, there is a park, and at the center it features a beautiful bronze historical marker. … It’s a small, but grand monument to a man and his vision.”
These days, however, the bronze marker has been taken down and the park is no longer technically a park at all, and use of the access trail also is in question, even though it has been used by locals and tourists alike since the town was first platted. Property owners on both sides of the park have insisted that they have legal right to most of the land that is actually used for Lycan Park, and so far Grays Harbor County has gone along with the assertion.
Fighting back, a local movement has now gathered signatures from more than 1,500 people on a petition to restore the plaque and the Lycan memorial.
Eleanor Lycan Ward, one of the surviving granddaughters of Dr. Lycan, has been embroiled in the dispute to get the park and the plaque returned since hearing it had to be removed after being challenged by the developer/owner of the new Moonstone Beach Hotel, located just south of the park.
“It is the only way for people to get safely to the beach, and it once was the most direct route to the beach from the old railroad station that was once there,” Eleanor Lycan Ward said. “It’s public access to the beach.”
In court documents, Paul Barry challenged the county’s initial decision to allow the park to be built in filing a complaint to enforce quiet title to the property on the south side of the Fourth Street access.
Barry declined to comment on the dispute for this story. He also owns several other view vacation rental properties in Moclips.
In a letter dated Sept. 15, 2016, attorney Scott Sage acting on behalf of Moonstone Properties and Barry wrote to several of the people involved with the issue as neighboring property owners: “As all of you know, the Fourth Street right-of-way was vacated to the adjoining property owners by operation of law in 1907.”
While the park might be considered a “permissive” use permitted by the property owner, the owner also has the right “to withdraw its permission at any time.”
Sage further asserted that the county “did not have the authority to issue this permit” for the park or the placing of the plaque because it no longer owned the actual legal right-of way.
Park proponents argue they have photos of the park and the beach access trail being used for more than 100 years, and the rights of the public are being diminished by cutting off access to the beach. Steve and Marie Walker own property across the street. “That was a county park when we bought the place and we said we would always have a view,” Steve Walker said.
“The view is really wonderful, but access is the priority,” Marie Walker added.
Lifelong Moclips resident Lee Pickett, who would maintain the park as a volunteer, noted the beach access trail is heavily used during clam seasons: “Every clam tide every year since I have lived here in 1948, people walk to the beach to go clam digging. And where do they walk? Right here.”
“We are kind of unclear on the ownership of it at this moment,” said another supporter of the park, John Kelly, who owns and operates the Gull Wing Inn vacation property, also across the street and just south of the beach access. “I think Mr. Barry wants to privatize something that is public.”
The new Moonstone Beach Motel was built to replace a former motel of the same name.
“He encroached as far as they would let him,” said Kelly of the much larger new building.
Time appears to be running out on the effort.
“Nobody knew until just recently that the street may have been abandoned and automatically reverted to the property owners on either side. This may or may not be true. We do not know. The issue for us is access, not ownership,” Kelly said.
Tom Gray, deputy director of public works/county surveyor for Grays Harbor County, said he has studied the issue since it arose nearly two years ago.
First, there is the Moclips town plat of 1902, and in the case of Fourth Street where the Lycan memorial and path stood, “that particular right of way was never built,” Gray explains. It might have been used by folks headed to the beach, but it was not fully established.
“So there is a law that says if a road is not built within a right of way that is dedicated to the public for a period of five years … that right of way is automatically vacated,” Gray said.
What that means for Fourth Street: “Since Mr. Barry owns the property on the south side, the south half of Fourth Street, which is already his, the right of way would cease to exist.” The same is true for the property on the north side of the street, Gray added.
It equates to about 30 feet on either side, thus leaving no room for what was the park.
“The county had no legal authority to grant the permit for that right of way,” Gray said.
Lycan Ward believes there are other considerations, such as state law protecting beach access, as well as safety and historical factors. While one compromise suggested was to find another location for the memorial plaque, such as the Museum of the North Beach, or another park location, Lycan Ward said that isn’t a preferable solution.
“That was always supposed to be for the people,” she said.
Kelly and the others believe they may have no other recourse but to bring their own lawsuit, but they figure that could cost thousands of dollars. They recently have appealed to County Commissioner Vickie Raines, who referred back to Gray’s assessment.
“I believe Mrs. Ward’s strongest argument is that since the public has used the path and visited the memorial for so many years, the public may have some form of prescriptive right,” Gray said.
“That very well may be, but that’s really for a court of law to decide.”