Beach Bill 50th Anniversary
By Kevin Kasowski, OEC Staff
Saturday, May 13, Oregonians will be celebrating a dramatic moment that happened 50 years ago and played a pivotal role in establishing Oregon’s environmental legacy and the quality of life we enjoy today.
It was 1967. Before the Clean Water Act. Before the Clean Air Act. Before EPA. Before the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC).
Our rivers were far more polluted than today and smog shrouded the views of Cascade peaks. Roadsides were filled with discarded cans and bottles and there was barely any land use planning at all. A Cannon beach motel owner had fenced off the beach, creating a private area for guests only.
Governor Tom McCall had had enough. Accompanied by a small corps of surveyors, he flew in to Cannon Beach by helicopter on May 13, landed on the beach and literally drew a line in the sand to defend Oregonians’ long cherished tradition of open beach access.
Widespread media coverage brought sand-loving Oregonians out of the woodwork. More than 30,000 cards, letters and telegrams poured into Salem — the largest public response to any legislative issue in state history, before or since.
Only weeks later, state lawmakers responded. Their adoption of the Beach Bill affirmed what Oregonians had already known for time immemorial: in Oregon, the beaches belong to the pubic.
McCall’s dramatic visit and the adoption of the Beach Bill also inspired a University of Oregon law student named Maradel Gale. She joined a group of ordinary Oregonians to form a citizen’s group that put Measure 6 on the November 1968 ballot to further secure the future of Oregon’s beaches.
Faced with strong opposition from the oil industry (sound familiar?), Measure 6 didn’t pass – a clear signal to the many local environmental, conservation and nature groups that a more unified voice for Oregon’s environment was desperately needed.
A week later, Maradel met with Brock Evans, Larry Williams and other activists who gathered in Salem. From that meeting, the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) was born. And Maradel Gale was its first board president.
In 1969, one of OEC’s first acts was to join with others in enacting additional laws to clarify and cement the Beach Bill’s power.
So even in these dark days of seemingly non-stop federal attacks on environmental laws, Oregonians have much to celebrate. It’s time for a beach party!
Beach Bill 50th Anniversary, Cannon Beach, May 13: Sandcastles. Tidepools. Close-up views of nesting puffins. Guided hikes. Live music. An evening bonfire. Even Governor McCall’s son, Tad, who is flying in to be part of the celebration. You will find all this, and more. Additional details here.
For more on Oregon’s Beach bill, visit:
- Oregon Historical Society’s “Oregon’s Landmark Legislation” exhibit
- The Oregon Encyclopedia on the Beach Bill.
- Moving image footage from the passing of the Beach Bill and this online exhibit on Tom McCall: