Soapbox • Former governor opposed straightening Highway 101 near Pacific City, which would have wiped out the beach

A great Oregonian died last year Ñ former Gov. Bob Straub. He wasn't actually a native, but his excellent service to this state should qualify him as one.

The various print media ran front-page obituaries that recapped many of Straub's impressive achievements. They were informative and laudatory and placed him in the proper context from an era of progressive and bipartisan Oregonians that today seems as distant as the invention of movable type.

The recaps made a strong case for recognizing Straub's unique political legacy. But they didn't provide the reader with the real corporeal stuff, an example of something utterly tangible that this bold, supposedly unpolished, man made happen to benefit everyone from, or transplanted to, or just visiting Oregon.

Well, let me offer one: I was just there 30 minutes ago, on Nestucca Spit in Bob Straub State Park near Pacific City, running the length of it with my three dogs, as I do two or three times a week.

Dawn was breaking when we hit the hard, wet sand. Rain felt imminent. There was no wind. No other humans. The dogs, of course, went nuts. By the time we made it to the magic roiling spot where the Pacific Ocean meets Nestucca Bay, it was full daylight and a couple of harbor seals bobbed 30 feet out. I turned around, took in Cape Kiwanda and Haystack Rock, observed a little campfire smoke in the nearby dunes and headed back up the spit while the dogs rumbled in the surf.

Without Straub, there would be a freeway there today. Want to know what it might have looked like? Go to Beverly Beach north of Newport and check out the Highway 101 route there Ñ an unmitigated disaster.

Straub killed the insane Nestucca Highway idea 35 years ago, slew it for all time, and the story is worth retelling for many compelling reasons Ñ chief among them as a lesson to Oregon's newly elected lawmakers and chief executive. And that lesson is: Get back to making Oregon distinct.

During the peak of its fanatic Oregon Coast Highway straightening mission in 1967, so the story goes, the dictatorial state Highway Commission (now the Oregon Department of Transportation) issued an edict: Reroute Highway 101 north of Beaver and send it plowing through dairy farms near Sandlake, over Cape Kiwanda, down Nestucca Spit and over Nestucca Bay!

Bob Straub was appalled and led the fight to stop it by taking on arguably the most powerful politician in the state É Mr. Imperious, Glenn Jackson. When the dust (sand) settled, and effigies for and against the project were burned in Pacific City, Straub triumphed and won perhaps the greatest environmental victory ever on the Oregon coast. Or the entire state for that matter. Thanks to him, Nestucca Spit is open beach and always be.

He was state treasurer at the time. I'm an Oregon political junkie, and I don't even know who the current state treasurer is. But I do know he or she surely wouldn't be out in the country trying to rally citizens to stop an obscenity proposed by another state agency. (Is obscenity too strong a word? I have seen the drawings of this highway project. Obscenity may be sugarcoating it.)

In the end, the highway wasn't rerouted. It curves slowly and torturously through Beaver, Hebo, Cloverdale and completely bypasses Pacific City. So what? If you want to see the beach around here, drive west off Highway 101, park and get out of your car. Try Bob Straub State Park. Hike the spit. Walk it. Sprint it. Play football. Make out. Run naked lighted by a full moon. Try to tan. Drink beer. Make a fire.

And whatever you do, thank Bob Straub.

Matt Love, 38, is a freelance writer who lives in southern Tillamook County. He also is caretaker of the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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