SALEM — Imagine resorts carved into the coastline, fences blocking access to the beaches, and “no trespassing” signs posted on trails to the ocean.
We’ve never had to in Oregon because we have free unrestricted public access to all the state’s beaches.
Landmark legislation passed in 1967, known as the Beach Bill, guarantees us access that only Hawaii can match.
Our 362-mile coastline is a recreational playground, with hiking, camping, fishing and biking, surfing and beachcombing opportunities galore. It is one big viewing platform, with enchanting beaches, seductive headlands and glorious vistas at every single turn.
Tom McCall, the 30th governor of Oregon, signed the Beach Bill into law on July 6, 1967. He described it as “one of the most far-reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in the nation.” McCall was one of our most influential governors, serving two terms from 1967 to 1975. He was known for his courage and conviction that led to progressive legislation like this bill, the Bottle Bill, and the SB 100 land-use law.
Oswald West set the stage when he became governor in 1913. He declared Oregon’s beaches to be a state highway, the legislature backed him up, and the first major protection of public access was on the books. When McCall signed the Beach Bill, he quoted West for protecting our beaches: “No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people.” A state park south of Cannon Beach is named after Oswald West.
Bob Straub was state treasurer at the time and McCall’s political rival. The importance of securing free public access to beaches was one thing they could agree on. Straub, like McCall, was a noted environmentalist. He became the 31st governor of Oregon and helped strengthen the state’s energy and land-use laws during his tenure. Straub also has a state park named after him near Pacific City.
Loran L. “Stub” Stewart, chairman of the State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, deserves much of the credit for getting the legislation introduced. During committee testimony, he affirmed the legislative responsibility to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for Oregonians and visitors. “We have the finest beach recreation areas in the nation; and the Highway Commission, through this bill, wants to keep it that way for the public.” A state park between Portland and the coast is named after Stewart.
William Hay was a Portland real estate broker who owned the Surfsand Motel in Cannon Beach, where the controversy hit like a sneaker wave. Hay placed large driftwood logs to block off a section of the dry sand area in front of the motel, put up cabanas and tables for guests only, and installed private property signs on the perimeter. The moves exposed a loophole in the 1913 legislation, which technically protected only the wet sands. If not for Hay, the issue might not have been addressed until years later during a much different political climate.
Sidney Bazett, chairman of the House Highway Committee, was another advocate of public rights on our beaches. The bill nearly died in committee before the efforts of Bazett and concerned citizens revived it.
Dr. Robert Bacon and Laurence Bitte led a group called Citizens to Save Oregon Beaches and threatened an initiative petition if the legislation failed. Dr. Bacon was an anatomy professor at the University of Oregon Medical School. Bitte was a graduate student at the University of Oregon. They represented the spirit of all Oregonians who champion our natural resources and environmental causes.
Alfred “Ted” Goodwin, the Oregon Supreme Court judge who wrote the 1969 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Beach Bill and declaring that Oregon’s beaches should remain public property. He served on the court from 1960 to 1969 before being appointed by President Richard Nixon as a U.S. district judge and then to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.