Remembering Polly Dyer: New exhibit profiles a Cascades champion

Remembering Polly Dyer: New exhibit profiles a Cascades champion

The ‘American Alps’ were in peril. One of the world’s largest mining companies had designs on excavating within the jagged wilderness known as the North Cascades. A band of conservationists, including the cheerfully tenacious Polly Dyer, had other ideas.

North Cascades

Dyer’s living room became a sort of academy for envelope-stuffing, stamp-licking activists who advanced a budding movement of middle-class professionals with the leisure time to defend the natural world. With crucial help from U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson, they won protection for the serrated peaks and pristine lakes.

On Oct. 2, 1968, amid the war protests and assassinations that shook the world, came a bright spot: President Johnson created North Cascades National Park.

“Polly was the best-prepared person I think I’ve ever run across on issues,” said former governor Dan Evans. Dyer’s sweeping 50-year legacy ranges from adding Shi Shi Beach to the Olympic National Park, to supplying key language to the federal Wilderness Act.

She died in 2016 at 96, but her work lives on.

Untrammeled nature, she told a U.S. Senate committee, “is a priceless asset which all the dollars man can accumulate will not buy back.”

Polly Dyer with William O. Douglas
Polly (far right) organized a 22-mile hike to protect a threatened stretch of the Olympic National Park. It was led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an ardent conservationist and Washington native. (center, pointing)

A biographical profile of Dyer is part of Legacy Washington’s new project, “1968: The Year that Rocked Washington.” Change was in the air. Everywhere. From Saigon to Seattle, Paris to Pasco. On college campuses, the campaign trail, and evergreen peaks, Washingtonians were spurred to action.

It was the year when Vietnam, civil rights, women’s liberation, and conservation coalesced—the year when tragedy led the 6 o’clock news with numbing regularity. Nearly 50 million Baby Boomers were coming of age. The draft call for 1968 was 302,000, up 72,000 from the prior year. 1968 changed us in ways still rippling through our society half a century later.

Over the next two months, the Legacy Washington website will roll out a series of online stories that also will be spotlighted at an exhibit set to open at the Washington State Capitol on Sept. 13, 2018. Other Washingtonians being profiled for the project include legendary disc jockey Pat O’Day, Seattle civic activist Jim Ellis, former congressman Norm Dicks, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, civil rights activist Dr. Maxine Mimms, and the late Arthur Fletcher, who in 1968 nearly became the state’s first black statewide elected official.

Dyer’s profile is featured at https://www.sos.wa.gov/legacy/sixty-eight/.

Thank you to the sponsors of Legacy Washington’s 1968 Exhibit: Capitol City PressThe McGregor Company, and Association of Washington Businesses. Thank you also to the sponsor of Legacy Washington’s Polly Dyer profile: The Wilderness Society.

Wilderness Society logo

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