As Log Trucks And Fishing Boats Leave, Gold Beach Tries To Remake Its Identity Logging and fishing once dominated the economy in rural Gold Beach, Oregon. NPR's Jeff Brady returned to his hometown, finding a new focus on tourism and other pursuits.

As Log Trucks And Fishing Boats Leave, Gold Beach Tries To Remake Its Identity

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This summer, NPR reporters are going home, back to the communities where they grew up, to see how their hometowns may have changed. The rural Pacific coast town of Gold Beach, Ore. is where Jeff Brady lived until 1985. On his trip home this summer, Jeff found a changed economy.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Despite the name Gold Beach, there is no gold on the beach. There was, but it was mined in the late 1800s. A century later when I was growing up, logging dominated the economy and seemed like it always would.

TAMIE KAUFMAN: Well, it was our number-one employer at the time. People came from everywhere to work at the mill.

BRADY: Tamie Kaufman is a friend, a former classmate and now a Gold Beach City Council member. We're walking where a plywood mill once stood. A lot of our friends' parents worked here. The mill closed after logging slowed down in nearby federal forests. One factor was environmental concerns and efforts to preserve the spotted owl. Tamie says the mill burned down in 1991.

KAUFMAN: Now people struggle - a lot of poverty.

BRADY: So do you think most people around here would like to see a mill like this come back, if not this one specifically?

KAUFMAN: Definitely the old-timers. I don't know about the people that have moved here in the last 10 years or so. They're probably used to our quiet, sleepy town and have moved here to retire in a quiet place.

BRADY: When Tamie and I were growing up, Gold Beach was a blue-collar town. Now it's a retirement destination, thanks to relatively cheap homes, a new hospital, low taxes and stunning natural beauty. It's easy to find solitude on beaches that stretch for miles. The mountains reach down to the coastline. And in town, you can see osprey nesting in giant fir trees.

Plus there's the Rogue River, famous for its salmon fishing. Down at the harbor, one-time commercial fisherman John Wilson (ph) says his business has changed a lot since I left.

JOHN WILSON: What we used to have here was a fairly robust ocean trawl fishery.

BRADY: The cannery that processed fish went out of business. And Wilson says there are fishing restrictions designed to restore depleted salmon runs.

WILSON: This is my little craft here. It's the last in a line of boats I've had.

BRADY: When was the last time you were out?

WILSON: Last year.

BRADY: Oh, so you haven't been out this year yet?

WILSON: No, no, no. There has been no salmon season.

BRADY: On the other side of the harbor, there is one business that's thriving.

SCOTT MCNAIR: All right, jet boat people. Are you guys ready for a day on the Rogue River?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yes.

MCNAIR: All right.

BRADY: Scott McNair's family owns Jerry's Rogue Jets. They take groups of tourists on boat trips up the Rogue River.

MCNAIR: Three of you? Excellent.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take care.

MCNAIR: Take your time there on that ramp and you'll find Sean (ph).

BRADY: Without logging and fishing, tourism is a bigger part of Gold Beach's economy. But tourists only come in the summer.

MCNAIR: You know, businesses that survive off a three-month season have to be careful in their expenses.

BRADY: McNair says tourism can't provide the steady paychecks timber and fishing did. Across the river, there's a controversial industry emerging. Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. Pot was always for sale here, but it's strange to see it marketed openly now.

EARL CRUMRINE: The building is white, and we have green crosses to show the people that it is a place that's cannabis friendly.

BRADY: Earl Crumrine co-owns the business and says, marijuana is seasonal, too.

CRUMRINE: We're doing about 50, 60,000 a month.

BRADY: Crumrine employs about 30 people, most of them part-time. Wages are low, close to the local minimum of $10 an hour. His business is a new source of revenue for Curry County, though.

CRUMRINE: They are now collecting 3 percent taxes. And that's over 14,000 a year that the county's going to get from my taxes.

BRADY: The county needs all the money it can get. Voters rejected a series of tax increases designed to make up for lost logging revenue. Republican County Commissioner Court Boice says it's a challenge to maintain even basic services like law enforcement.

COURT BOICE: When you were growing up here, we had 16 road deputies. Now we have about six or seven depending on what the circumstances are.

BRADY: That's for a county the size of Rhode Island where the population is small - 23,000 - but growing. Conservative political leaders here argue that reviving the timber industry will help. President Trump promised to do that during a campaign stop last year. Still, the economic prospects for my hometown of Gold Beach Oregon look dim.

Fortunately, there's always the beautiful beach, the river and the forest to console those who still live here. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

SIMON: NPR would like to hear from you about your hometown and how it's changed. You can email us at nprcrowdsource@npr.org.

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