Life on the Beach at the Coastal Interpretive Center

washington beaches


By Chelsea Royer

great northwest federal credit unionEntering the Coastal Interpretive Center of Ocean Shores, I was astonished by the number of educational displays within the small building. Dozens of mounted birds exemplified but a small portion of the coastal bird species. From room to room, each division held a new subject of interest.

From whale bones to sea shells to Sasquatch molds to pieces of the S.S. Cartala, each display encouraged hands-on interaction where children or adults could learn about each subject.

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Whale bones give a great visual reminder as to how big the creatures really are.

The exhibits continue outdoors with a playset, nature walk, and large objects found washed up on the beach from places as far away as Japan. Sitting down with Mary Mattern, eight year volunteer at the Interpretive Center, she explained that the primary purpose of the center is to educate. By walking through the displays, people learn all about coastal life on land and in the water, about the history of Ocean Shores, and how to protect – as well as be safe from – the surrounding environment.

Originally under ownership of the Washington State Parks, the Interpretive Center had its birth about twenty-five years ago, according to Mary. It has since transitioned from State Parks property to private ownership to being owned by the City of Ocean Shores. But now, with budget cuts all across the board, the center is struggling to remain open, with efforts to make it privately owned once again.

The Interpretive Center is a wonderful place, not just because of the educational experience it gives to individuals, but also because admission is free. Families of any size or any walk of life are able to experience an inexpensive family outing at the beach. Exhibits, playground, picnic tables, and nature walk are all a mere few hundred yards from the nearby beach access. Especially for families with younger kids, the experience is bound to encourage learning and exploration – all within a safe, hands-on environment.

A good portion of the Interpretive Center focuses on items that have washed ashore such as Japanese fishing floats, statutes, boat findings, and the most interesting to me, remnants of the S.S. Cartala. Shipwrecked on the beach of Ocean Shores, the S.S. Cartala was abandoned for years before it was realized the oil inside the cruise ship posed a threat to the surrounding environment.

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This exhibits displays the facts and life cycles of sand dollars.

The ship was removed and all that is left of the history, memories, and workmanship of the Cartala remains at the Coastal Interpretive Center. One Saturday a month, volunteers make themselves available to help people identify their beach findings. Many people have been generous in donating, permanently or temporarily, their unique beach discoveries.

The Interpretive Center holds many different lecture series, speakers, and fundraising opportunities that not only help with funding and exposure, but also promise an enjoyable time for visitors. The center boasts about 100 volunteers – the heart of the Coastal Interpretive Center – and the love of their visitors who donate. Without these, it wouldn’t be here today.

To keep track of upcoming events and fundraisers, visit the Coastal Interpretive Center’s calendar by clicking here.

A visit to the Coastal Interpretive Center allows you to look at the geology, geography, cultural history, and natural history of the beautiful Grays Harbor area.

Coastal Interpretive Center

1033 Catala Avenue SE in Ocean Shores



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