As Shelter Cove Celebrates 50th Anniversary, Residents Warn Visitors About Black Sands
No one knows how many have died in the waters just north of Shelter Cove but below are three of the most well-known incidents.
- In March of 2000, a rogue wave swept a 47-year-old parent/chaperon from Canada off Black Sands Beach and she, as well as two 17-year-old students who attempted to save her, drowned.
- In January of 2013, a man and woman were slapped by a unusually large wave at Little Black Sands. The man scrambled onto rocks. The woman was swept to sea and drowned.
- In March of this year, yet another rogue wave snatched a 13-year-old Montana boy off a rock at Black Sands Beach and his father, though managing to save his son, drowned in the rescue.
Autumn Hargrave and her husband Jac, owners of the Fish Tank, a small cafe overlooking the area, are constantly warning people, particularly tourists, to never turn their back on the treacherous waves and stay out of the rip current.Autumn Hargrave points out, “As a business owner in Shelter Cove, I would rather lose a sale to someone who is a little pissed I laid on the Black Sands water warning too thick than lose one of my volunteer firefighters out there in the water.”
Hargrave believes that some business organizations in the area “play down the dangers of Black Sands beach.” She thinks that’s dangerous. She adds wryly, “A dead tourist does not come back for a second time. It is in all our best interests to keep our visitors alive.”
Maryellen McKee who has family living within sight of the beaches says the latest death moved her to try and raise awareness of the dangers. She has started talks with BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and RID (Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District) to place distinctive signs on the two beaches. To facilitate this, McKee has opened a Facebook page and a GoFundMe site to raise awareness of the situation and to raise money for signage that will draw attention to the dangers.
“The fundraiser is to try and support having a local type sign at Big and Little Black Sands,” McKee said. There are signs there already provided by BLM (the Bureau of Land Management) and RID, but, McKee explained, “Support for a memorial that would include the names of people who have lost their lives there is growing.”
She says that the consensus seems to be that official warning signs are often ignored. “People just habitually look through something that looks the same as every other sign,” she believes. “People assume they know what it says. Something local and handmade might draw them in especially visitors. Maybe capture a little more attention.”
Supervisor Estelle Fennell approves of the idea. Fennell says, “I’ve chipped in already…I think the signs are a wonderful idea. They would be a wonderful gift from the community to every visitor. I really love Black Sands beach. It is one of my favorite places to go. But we recognize the inherent dangers of the topography there.” She says she has “put a call into the field manager for BLM letting her know I am 100% behind the project.”
Richard Stenger from the Humboldt County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau said that he is “heartbroken and sick” over the latest death. He says that his organization will be “redoubling our efforts” to inform tourists to “be mindful of the conditions” when they come to the beaches. Stenger says during this 50th Anniversary of RID (see celebrations planned here,) he and his organization want to “share an undiscovered part of the coast” that even many locals aren’t aware of but he also wants to make sure that visitors are aware of the particular dangers of the two Black Sand beaches.
Fennell says that in addition to signs warning of the danger, she would like to see something honoring the Montana man who recently lost his life. “We need to memorialize the heroics of the father who saved his son,” she said.
At this point, McKee says, the plan is for the danger sign to move beyond functionality. “It will be painted by a local artist with some embellishments to make it look artistic and local,” she said.