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95 chapter 6 Nature’s Warrior Great joy in camp. We are in view of the ocean, this great Pacific Ocean, which we have been so long anxious to see, and the roaring or noise made by the waves breaking on the rocky shores (as I suppose) may be heard distinctly. —Captain William Clark, November 7, 1805 Straub’s first opportunity to challenge McCall came within two weeks of the announcement of his race for governor. On February 2, 1966, newspaper reporter Jim Long from the Oregon Journal called Straub at home in the evening. Long was just back from attending a highway commission hearing in Coos Bay. He noticed an obscure item on the agenda for approval of bridge construction over the mouth of the Nestucca River, as part of a major highway diversion project. The overall plan was to shift Highway 101 onto Winema Beach north of Neskowin, up over the headland, and the new four-lane bridge, across the Nestucca River estuary, and onto the sandy finger of the Nestucca Sand Spit on the other shore. From there the proposed highway would travel three miles due north along the first dune, then on up through Pacific City, passing Cape Kiwanda and Sand Lake, finally turning inland to Tillamook. Long was looking for a quote—did he think it was a good idea? “No,” said Straub. “I’m opposed to it.” Long was looking for a better quote than that, so he suggested, “How about saying something like, ‘it would harm the ecology of the bay?’” Straub said, “Let me get back to you.” A half hour later Straub called Long back and gave him a brief statement, incorporating his suggestion. The quote and the story ran in the next day’s paper.1 Seeing the news article, a group of Pacific City landowners requested a meeting with Straub to discuss their anger and frustration over the plan, which they felt would spoil a stretch of pristine ocean beach. He promised to look into it further. The more he looked, the more outraged he became. Destroying that beautiful beach was “unthinkable,” Straub fumed. This was just exactly the sort of issue he could use to illustrate his style of leadership. Here in a nutshell was what was wrong, from Straub’s point of view, with Oregon government’s approach to preserving the unique beauty of the state. 96 Standing at the Water’s Edge The essence of the dispute was whether a highway should be located along several miles of beachfront for maximum efficiency of travel and ease of coastal access or whether the beaches in the highway’s planned path should be preserved for recreational and ecological benefit in their natural state. It is appropriate that the opening battle in the fight for control of Oregon’s beaches was over a highway. Pacific coast beaches had served as a road for travelers since ancient times. And those early travelers must have marveled at its awesome beauty just as later visitors did, who recorded their thoughts in journals and books. Oregon’s rugged coastline and thick undergrowth of rain-fed bushes and trees made inland pathways difficult to construct and sometimes dangerous to traverse. Coastal Native peoples used the beach— long, flat, and straight in many places—to travel up and down the coast to trade with other tribes. When fur traders and pioneers arrived in the Oregon Country, some settled near the ocean and along harbors and also found travel on foot, horseback, or horse-drawn vehicles along the beaches the most useful and practical option, especially using low tide to go around rocky headlands where path construction was difficult. So it wasn’t too surprising that a long stretch of sandy beach in Clatsop County, Oregon’s northernmost county, where many of the early coastal pioneers had settled, was named a state highway in 1899 by the Oregon Legislature. More than a decade later, when horse travel was giving way to motorcars, the far-sighted and crafty young governor, Oswald West, used the Clatsop County precedent to convince the legislature in 1913 to declare the entire length of Oregon’s beaches, up to the high tide line, as a public highway. As a progressive Democrat and an early conservationist with a spiritual connection to Oregon’s coast, he saw this as a way to ensure that the public retained its rights to its beaches and that they not be chopped into inaccessible private lots State Treasurer...


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MARC Record
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