Thursday, July 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: 620 cyclists raised litter awareness in 1974 with a ride across the state

By Devin Felix, Ecology web content specialist

Just over 41 years ago, a group of 620 men, women and teenagers struck out to the east on bicycles from Lake Sammamish State Park on a trek sponsored by the Department of Ecology. Four days and 260 miles later, they arrived in Spokane for the 1974 World’s Fair with only a few people having dropped out along the way.

Their journey was intended to “prove that litter, a very visual and ugly form of land pollution, can be prevented through education and motivation,” said Chuck Cross, an Ecology public affairs consultant at the time who organized the trip.

The bike trip came just a few years after the passage of the state’s Model Litter Control Act. Every rider carried a bag for litter, and publicity materials surrounding it emphasized that the bikers’ campsites were left spotless every morning when they departed.

The voyage started June 17, 1974, and ended June 21. Most of the voyage ran along I-90, which required planners to get special permission from the Washington State Highway Commission. At night they camped at state parks, and meals were provided by sponsors and the Washington State National Guard. The bikers ranged in age from 16 to 57.

As you might expect, a phalanx of more than 600 cycling along the interstate didn’t go unnoticed. The group was led by a pace car and followed by a car with lights to divert vehicle traffic into the left lane to pass. A report reviewing the event said that attempts to keep the bikers away from the center line of the interstate “proved futile” because of their large numbers. The report said “problems encountered during the tour were minimal,” but only because of “good fortune, the Washington State Patrol and the good Lord.”

Despite these challenges, nearly everyone who started the bike tour completed it. Publicity materials and news reports after the event praised it as a great success that did a lot to raise awareness of litter problems.

The Washington State Archives recently posted several dozen photos from the event, as well as documents from 1974 about the trip.

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