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The Beach Bill

OPB | Nov. 12, 2007 9 p.m. | Updated: July 25, 2013 10:13 a.m.

Cars and bathers on an Oregon beach.

Cars and bathers on an Oregon beach.

Oregon State Archives

In 1967 Governor Tom McCall signed the Beach Bill with great fanfare — granting the public recreational access to Oregon’s beaches. But the bill almost died in committee. A behind the scenes look at the history, politics and people behind HB 1601.

Governor Tom McCall signed the Beach Bill with great fanfare, calling it “one of the most far reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in the nation.” The bill granted the public recreational rights to the dry sands of Oregon’s beaches all the way to the vegetation line.

But the fight to protect Oregon’s beaches from private development and “No Trespassing” signs began around 1913 when Governor Oswald West designated Oregon’s tidelands — the wet sand portion of the beach — as a public highway.

But in the 1960s, private developers along the coast began challenging the law saying that, in fact, the dry sand portion of the beach belonged to the upland owners. And, therefore, they could do whatever they wanted with the land — including erecting barricades to create “private beaches.”

What ensued was a fight to save all of Oregon’s beaches for public recreational use. The battle erupted into the hottest issue of the 1967 legislative session and created the greatest public response to any issue in Oregon’s legislative history.

Using archival footage of Governor Tom McCall, State Treasurer Bob Straub and many others, the program illuminates the events and issues that led to the Beach Bill and tells the stories of people who worked for its passage.

Broadcast Date: November 12, 2007

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OREGON EXPERIENCE is a co-production of Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Oregon Historical Society.