So You Want to Live in ... Bandon, Oregon

Since the mid-1800s, seaside beauty has drawn newcomers to this spunky Pacific Northwest town.

"Living in Bandon is much like being on vacation," says Mike Vickrey. He moved to the Oregon coast in 1993, after many years in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, and California. Mike finds that this little town, population 2,800, backs up its motto as "the perfect change of place."

"Here are some of the cleanest and easiest walking beaches you'll find anywhere," he says. "Beachcombing―especially during the winter months―is unsurpassed." In spring and summer, with the ocean just minutes from his doorstep, Mike says he doesn't have to worry about an air conditioner. "I just let the clean breeze come through."

Driving Oregon's southerly coast on Highway 101 takes you through Bandon's modern business center, and few can resist detouring to Old Town's restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and bookstores. This historic district stretches about six blocks along the Coquille River and two blocks inland. Residential neighborhoods rise on the slope to the south, on the bluffs above the South Jetty Beach, and upriver to the east. It's easy to imagine travelers gazing toward these homes from a café and thinking, "I wonder what it's like to live here."

"There are a lot of 'wannabe Bandon people,'" says Nancy Evans, who settled here in 1972 after driving through. What makes Bandon so attractive to both travelers and new residents is the spectacular seaside-ness of it. Shorebirds, ducks, geese, bald eagles, ospreys, and white-tailed kites hang out in the pristine salt marsh of Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles east of downtown. Cormorants, murres, and tufted puffins frequent the ocean waters off Coquille Point. Gray whales migrate near shore, and orcas have been known to enter the Coquille estuary. Salmon remain plentiful, too. Bandon charter boats number among the few in the entire Pacific Northwest to return to port with full catches. Bountiful Dungeness crab inspired the port to rig a special harbor dock where crabbers can set their traps.

The town burned to the ground twice―in 1914 and again in 1936. Both times, the resilient and pragmatic locals rebuilt their homes and businesses and didn't look back. Economically, Bandon's location at the mouth of the Coquille shaped it as a port for sea and river. In the early 1900s, the town frequently hosted vessels traveling between San Francisco and the Columbia River into Portland. As local timber, fish, and produce resources declined, Bandon moved on to tourism.

When Nancy arrived more than 25 years ago, many residents had yet to appreciate Bandon's historic significance, so she set about co-founding the Bandon Historical Society. She has been instrumental in the ongoing renaissance of Old Town―now a mecca for visitors. "I worked so hard on getting the tourism up and running that [now] I have no place to park," she says with a laugh.

People move here even though well-paying jobs are scarce, and some, like Nancy, create their own work. Having contributed so much to the tourism boost via her Old Town efforts, Nancy says, "I'm now doing penance by bringing the sustainable organic industry to town. We need a viable industry other than tourism."

In 1997, she helped start Bandon Organic Growers (BOG) and remains a key player in this enterprise. "Bandon is the perfect place to get sustainable organics growing," she says, naming the local stars―blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, artichokes, lettuces. Now Nancy is helping develop international markets for Bandon organic produce and serves as the Web site master for BOG.

Local kids who leave Bandon often return once they have made their bundle elsewhere. A few, such as Judy Knox and her husband, Ron, have lived in Bandon all their lives. "Bandon is a truly great place to have been raised and to call home," says Judy, who runs the Coquille River Museum. "We both feel very fortunate to have been able to stay here." She welcomes visitors and transplants. "We feel people come to Bandon for all the right reasons―the beauty, the small-town atmosphere, friendly people, and a relaxed, laid-back community."

Saying it most succinctly is Southern California transplant Connie Madden, now a waitress at the Bandon Dunes Resort. She decided she would rather "live in a nice place and visit the city than escape from the city to wind down in nice places."

(published 2001)

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