GCPBA RiverNews 12/2/14 – Martin Litton, February 13, 1917 – November 30, 2014

GCPBA RiverNews 12/2/14 - Martin Litton, February 13, 1917 - November 30, 2014

John Blaustein sent out the sad news about Martin Litton's passing, quietly in his sleep with his wife, Esther, at his side.  Some of us directly had our lives greatly impacted by this man. Because of what he and others successfully did to fight proposed dams in the Grand Canyon we have a river to run today.

Dave Mortenson

From Ryan Cooper of The Week:

Conservationist Martin Litton, who kept dams out of the Grand Canyon, has died at 97.

Boatman, conservationist, businessman, journalist, and political activist Martin Litton passed away yesterday at his home in Palo Alto, California. He served as a glider pilot for the Army Air Corps in the Second World War, and later worked as a journalist for Sunset magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Environmental activism would become his lifelong passion. In 1955, he was the 185th recorded person to traverse the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, and still holds the record for oldest person to row himself down the river, from a 2004 trip he did at age 87. He also founded and operated his own river company, Grand Canyon Dories, which ran unconventional wooden boats.

He is best known for the political struggle in the 1960s over damming the Grand Canyon. Dams were one of the major vectors of pork-barrel politics in those days, and the Bureau of Reclamation had large hydroelectric dams planned at two points within the canyon. Together with David Brower, then-director of the Sierra Club, and other activists like Edward Abbey, Litton managed a successful political mobilization against the projects.

From Dave Boyce of The Almanac:

Portola Valley environmental champion Martin Litton dies.

Martin Litton of Portola Valley, California, a World War II glider pilot and a writer for Sunset magazine, was a great friend to the natural world, working tirelessly to preserve its wonders.

Mr. Litton was instrumental, for example, in preventing construction of several dams in the American West, including in the Grand Canyon and at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, he told the Almanac for a 2012 story. He also helped foil plans that would have put transmission towers through Portola Valley to provide electricity to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, he said.

Someone else will now have to tell his stories. Mr. Litton died peacefully at his home on Bear Gulch Drive on Sunday, Nov. 30, according to his wife Esther. He was 97.

Mr. Litton came to the Peninsula in 1954 with Esther to take a job as travel editor for Sunset magazine in Menlo Park. He had acquired a reputation for nature writing with the Los Angeles Times and as an ardent defender of natural wonders. He also had a recommendation from David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, Mr. Litton said.

After residing in Menlo Park for a year and Los Altos for four years, the Littons in 1959 moved to a steep four-acre parcel in Portola Valley and built a house on the one spot suitable for construction, a house in which they stayed and raised four children, he said in the Almanac interview.

It was Mr. Litton's idea to bring wooden dories to the Grand Canyon, and he owned a river-running business there for decades. A recent documentary of Mr. Litton's life shows him making the case against a Grand Canyon dam by familiarizing reporters with the thrill of wild river rides in wooden dories, according to Mr. Brower.

The group "Save our Skyline," of which he was a member, went to court in 1965, and beat back a plan by the Atomic Energy Commission to run power lines to feed the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park. "They were going to come right through here," Mr. Litton told the Almanac, looking around Triangle Park at the corner of Alpine and Portola roads. "We beat them out of Portola Valley. They would have really been ruinous here."

Mr. Litton continued as a champion of the environment well into his 90s. Asked about climate change, he was pessimistic. "It's too late, too late," he said. "It's unbelievable that (the debate) has gone the way it has."

What should be done? "Stop multiplying right now," he said. A big part of the problem, he said, are religions that encourage large families and preach human subjugation of the Earth. "A lot of them aren't reachable because they don't care," he said. "They don't feel the problem in their individual lives."

"It's not a popular subject because it's unpleasant," he added. "People don't want to hear about it (but) who's kidding who. Global warming is here. The polar ice is breaking up." There used to be ice in his birdbath for three or four days every winter. No longer, he said.

John Blaustein:  This is a profound loss for all of us who knew and loved Martin.  He lived a long and incredibly full life, and we all will miss him.  His legacy will live on!

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