Podcast | The protest hike that stopped an Olympic coast highway

Environmental activist Polly Dyer teamed up with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in the 1950s to keep a stretch of Washington wild.

Justice William O. Douglas leads a group of hikers Olympic coast

Justice William O. Douglas leads a group of hikers in a still from the film “The Beach Hike” by Louis R. Huber. (Oregon State Historical Society)

Today, more than 73 miles of Washington’s rugged Olympic Coast is still rugged. It’s accessible only to hikers, not cars. Part of the reason for that is a famous 1958 beach hike led by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice – and Washington resident – William O. Douglas. 

The three-day hike, co-organized by environmental advocate Polly Dyer, was designed to protest a proposed coastal highway that would have transformed the region forever. A filmmaker tagged along with the roughly 70 participants, and thanks in part to the efforts of the Oregon Historical Society, the film is now restored, digitized and available for anyone to watch on YouTube.   

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Cascade PBS’s resident historian Knute Berger detailed this chapter of Pacific Northwest history in a recent episode of the Mossback’s Northwest video series, but there’s more left to explore. 

In this episode of Mossback, Berger joins co-host Stephen Hegg to discuss his early admiration for Justice Douglas and the fan letter he sent him back in 1970; Douglas’ famed legacy as an advocate for wilderness conservation; the less-publicized, but just as crucial, role Polly Dyer played in preserving wilderness in Washington and across the country; and the fact that the 1958 hike was not the only protest hike like it.

About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.