Conservationists William O. Douglas, Polly Dyer, and others begin a 22-mile hike along the Olympic coastline to protest proposed road construction on August 19, 1958.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 12/29/2010
  • Essay 9672

On August 19, 1958, United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) leads a hike along the Olympic coastline between Lake Ozette and Cape Alava (the farthest point west in the 48-contiguous United States), then south to Rialto Beach.  The goal of the hike, facilitated by Pacific Northwest  conservationist Polly Dyer (1920-2016) is to increase public opposition to a planned portion of U.S. Highway 101 which, if constructed, will destroy the wild coastline portion of Olympic National Park. 

Unbroken Primitive Coastline

The hike traversed the longest unbroken piece of primitive coastline in the United States (not including Alaska or Hawaii, which were not yet states). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated: "The hiking party hopes to demonstrate the irreplaceable value of the land and advocate its preservation" (August 8, 1958). 

The proposed road area, which wound along the undeveloped coastline between Lake Ozette and La Push, was not part of the original 1938 Olympic National Park land designation but had been added to the park in 1953 by President Harry Truman's (1884-1972) executive order.  The coastal strip in question was between half a mile and one mile wide. 

VIP Advocates

William O. Douglas, who had been appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1881-1945) in 1939, grew up in Yakima and was an outspoken advocate for preserving the natural environment.  Of Men and Mountains, an autobiographical account of Douglas's youth that recounted his of love for and adventures in Washington's wild places, was published in 1950.

Howard Zahniser (1906-1964) was at the time Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society (a national organization founded in 1935) and editor of its magazine, The Living Wilderness. Zahniser drafted the federal legislation establishing a national wilderness preservation system, eventually known as the Wilderness Act.  Polly Dyer, a Pacific Northwest conservationist of deep convictions, worked with Zahniser in support of this legislation. Dyer was also president of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, a powerful affiliation of organizations supporting conservation of the natural environment. 

Besides Douglas and Dyer, VIP hike participants included Wilderness Society president Harvey Broome (1902-1968), National Parks Association president Sigurd F. Olsen (1899-1982), and Olympic National Park superintendent Daniel B. Beard (b. 1906).

Planning the Protest 

Members of the Olympic Park Associates (an advocacy group for Olympic National Park) approached Howard Zahniser and voiced their concern about the proposed road that was to run along the park's coastal strip.  Polly Dyer later stated in an oral history for The Mountaineers that this discussion happened in the living room of the home in Auburn where she and her husband John lived at the time, and that opponents of the road were concerned because many chambers of commerce of towns that would be impacted by construction were pushing for the project.  The public, road proponents worried, did not understand the importance of retaining at least some areas of roadless coastline.

Zahniser, Dyer remembered, suggested that perhaps he could interest Douglas in the issue, and that maybe this would draw press coverage and public attention to the fight.  Douglas had spearheaded an eight-day 1954 hike along the C & O Canal on the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland, to help deflect a proposed parkway that would have destroyed the canal's historic towpath.

Upon his return to Washington, D. C., Zahniser broached the idea to Douglas, who said that he had hiked the area many times and, in fact, owned a fishing cabin at Mora near the confluence of the Dickey River and the Quillayute River near the area in question. He agreed to participate.

As president of the Federation of Western Outdoors Clubs, organizing the hike fell to Polly Dyer.  It was, she later said, "probably one of the first things I had really organized" (Pacific Northwest Conservationists, p. 16).

Bird Watchers Go Home?

The hike was by invitation, and 72 people agreed to participate. The area to the east of the untouched strip of coastline had previously been logged was accessible by logging roads.  Dyer arranged for loggers' buses to transport the hikers and reporters to the group's trailhead, and back out of the forest at the end of the hike. 

Although people who supported the road were invited to participate in the hike, none came.  Members of the press were there, but since they saw no opponents to the road (not on the hike, anyway) they saw no story. 

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the hikers spent the night before the hike "camped in every nook and cranny of Justice Douglas' hideaway cabin ... . Tents blossomed beneath every tree" (August 19, 1958). 

“We started at Cape Alava and hiked three days,” Dyer later recalled.  “When we came out at Rialto Beach a pro-road person was there with signs, ‘Bird Watchers Go Home.’  He made our story.  Had he not done that, the press would not have believed us.  We always felt that hike really turned it around” (Defending Wild Washington... p. 153).

The pro-road protester was Larry Venable (1911-1997), a Port Angeles resident and manager for Black Ball Freight Service.  Venable also served as the president of the Washington State Good Roads Association and as a director for the Automobile Club of Washington. With him was his 11-year-old son, Tony.  According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the pair carried signs reading, "We Own This Park Too, We Want a Shoreline Road," "Super Highways for 47 states but Primitive Areas For Us," "Fifty Million U.S. Auto Owners and Their Families Like Scenery, Too!," and "Bird Watchers Go Home" (August 22, 1958).

It is unclear whether the protest hike was responsible for stopping the road proposal, but the coastal strip remained intact.

New Threat, New Hike

In April 1964 in a report the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation recommended the construction of a 40-mile "scenic route" through wilderness area between Ruby Beach and Cape Alva. The Douglas group announced a new hike. The bureau quickly backtracked, announcing that their final recommendation would be for improvements to State Route 9C between Aberdeen and Queets, and construction of a new road between Forks and Lake Ozette.  Olympic Park Associates announced that they had no objections to that plan. 

In August 1964, Douglas led the 15-mile reunion hike, again sponsored by Olympic Park Associates and organized by Polly Dyer. Hiking were 159 people.  The route ran from the Hoh River north along the ocean coastline to La Push. 

In the end, no new road was constructed.


Defending Wild Washington: A Citizen’s Action Guide ed. by Edward A. Whitesell (Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2004); Pacific Northwest Conservationists, an oral history conducted in 1983, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1986; Voice of the Wild Olympics Special Edition Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Olympic Park Associates ed. by Sally Warren Soest (Seattle: Olympic Park Associates, 1998); "Justice Douglas Will Trek With Olympic Hiking Party," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 18, 1958, p. 13; Dan Coughlin, "Douglas To Lead Wilderness Odyssey," Ibid., August 19, 1958, p. 8; "Walkie-Talkie Brings News From Hikers," Ibid., August 20, 1958, p. 1; "Protest Hikers At Cedar Creek," Ibid., August 21, 1958, p. 21; Dan Coughlin, "Objecting Justice Douglas Meets An Objection," Ibid., August 22, 1958, p. 5; "Club Will Scout Trail For Douglas," The Seattle Daily Times, May 29, 1958, p. 4; "Olympic Park Hike Planned By Douglas," Ibid., July 28, 1958, p. 9; "Justice Douglas, 70 Hikers To Begin Wilderness Trip," Ibid., August 18, 1958, p. 10; Byron Fish, "Olympic Wilderness Hikers Hope To Chill Coast-Road Plan," Ibid., August 19, 1958, p. 32; "Justice Douglas and Hiking Party Complete Trip," Ibid., August 21, 1958, p. 17; "Times Readers Have Their Say," Ibid., August 24, 1958, p. 8; "E. M. Sterling, "Justice Douglas to Lead Another Olympic Park Hike," Ibid., June 7, 1964, p. 67; "First Dry Night: Wilderness Backers End Hike," Ibid., August 20, 1964, p. 5; William O. Douglas, Of Men And Mountains, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1950; Paula Becker interview with Polly Dyer, Seattle, Washington, December 21, 2010, notes in possession of Paula Becker.

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