Early history of the

Upper Columbia River Group

Sierra Club

by Pete Wyman

    The Inland Empire Group, as the local Spokane Club was called, was founded in 1968 by Jay Holliday Jr.  Jay had helped form a chapter in California and led national club outings in the Northwest.  At the time, the new group was part of the Pacific Northwest Chapter, which included Alaska, British Columbia, and Montana.  Meeting at his father’s home, Dr. Jay Holliday, Pete Wyman and a few others elected Jay as Chairman; membership was about 30 individuals.   The Northern Rockies Chapter formed a few years later to include Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington, Wyman as its second chair.  Later Montana separated during the growing ecological awareness of the 1970s.

In 1968 two carloads from the fledging group traveled to Seattle to testify before Congressional committee on the establishment of the North Cascade Natural Park and Pasayten Wilderness. At the time, the biggest obstacle to a viable ecosystem was Democrat Chairman Wayne Aspinal.  But a massive turnout of environmentalists and support of Republican Governor Dan Evans, crushed the timber industry opposition, an event that was talked about for years in Washington D.C.

After a couple of years, Pete Wyman, became Chair and newsletter editor while seeing membership grow to about 200. In the early days, college instructors Jay and Pete and others at SFCC provided significant leadership to the club as the scientific community increasingly spoke out against environmental degradation.  Dr. Bill Steele of EWU was the third and sixth chairman.

Gene Albert, the second chair became primarily concerned with halting unnecessary new dam construction.  The Army Corps of Engineers with their huge cost over-runs on previous projects and 20,000 civilian employees needing work, planned to dam up about every river in the West.  The Spokane Group and Trout Unlimited fought an unsuccessful suit against the Lower Snake River dams over the projected loss of salmon runs.  Under charismatic Brock Evans, the Club’s Northwest Representative, Spokane played an significant role in halting a massive dam in Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in America.  Jerrie Woodke, unassuming but a passionate environmentalist became the first woman Chair.  She organized a Greyhound bus from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene to testify at the Lewiston Congressional hearing that established the Hells Canyon Recreation Area and later did the same for the massive Frank Church Wilderness Area in Idaho.  Without local support, passage of these acts would be almost impossible against moneyed special interests.

Concern with an unprecedented increase in massive clear-cut logging dominated the 1960s and 70s years. Noted speakers from Montana brought out 100-200 people to see pictures of the devastation with Club. Three members, Morey Haggin, Mr. Environmentalist; Dr. Thatcher, sue the “b------s”; and Sam Angove became the scourge of the Forest Service bringing constant pressure on supervisors and Congressman Tom Foley, whose staff were often not supportive of environmental concerns. Forest Service officials often backed down rather than face a lawsuit that they generally lost because they consistently broke their own regulations. They continuously pointed to the colossal waste left to burn in our forests. Some foresters welcomed Club pressure to counter industry’s weight.  Sam Angove, Spokane County Parks Director, who gave us the Little Spokane Park and Liberty Lake, the scene of early club outings, was an unusual public servant who became Spokane Chair. Expanding the Cabinet Wilderness was his major concern.

The proposed Salmo-Priest wilderness became the overriding issue from the 1960s until the Salmo’s successful passage in 1983 following the Spokane hearings.  Evans first noticed the roadless area and talked Ray Kresek, a Mountaineer and later club member Rod Barkley, who first hiked into this area in 1962, to investigate.  A new road was to be constructed into this unique caribou inhabited, inland rainforest. Because of threatened violence, Rod left a contentious hearing in Colville, but Club pressure halted the logging project. Initially, there were few local environmental groups since most were concerned with their tax-exempt status and reluctant to be evolved in politics. The national Sierra Club lost its status when it halted additional dams in the Grand Canyon area. Unfortunately, wilderness for the upper Priest area with its huge river waterfalls and 17-foot diameter cedars, the state’s largest, never became legislation. After Sam, Rod’s sister Karen Barkley held the club together during an lull following the Earth Day era.

With the defeat of Senator Frank Church, new Idaho wilderness acts came to an end. The election of Ronald Reagan and his anti-environmental officials such as James Watt became the lightning rod for raising money and revitalizing the movement nationwide and locally. But unlike President Nixon who supported an EPA, Clean Air, Clean Water, etc., Watt and the new GOP members were often rapid anti-environmentalists who favored drilling, logging, and mining everything possible before the “second coming.”  To them it made no sense to preserve anything for the future. To new Congressman Helen Chenoweth, environmentalists were “pagan tree-huggers,” a step up from the days Angove, Wyman and others were called Communists.  (Pete had been a GOP activist!)  A North Idaho Group was formed in 1981 with the help of an Episcopal priest and other new organizations were formed, some with Chapter seed money.

The Spokane Group was led by a list of strong and hard working women.  Long term Chair Linda Bond; Nancy Hollis; Marie Swigard, who also became Chapter Chair; and Paula Whitson led the Club for over a decade into new areas of concern, such as river clean up, land use planning, solid waste, salmon recovery, etc. 

Hard working Chair Rich Leon and elementary school students planted 1,000 trees in Riverside Park in 1992 to honor John Muir’s birthday. Paula, Easy, Bea Lackaff and Rich as a public service published the first of several family Spokane Trail Guides covering Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho in 1988. The group has offered a unique variety of outdoor family excursions to adjacent forests, historical sites, parks, and dams. In the early 1980s, Carole Hollar led blind hikers in several outings. In the early 1990s, Beth Harper led hikes accessible to those with disabilities.  Currently, the club has a successful inner city outing program for kids.

John Muir

on the life of Muir, click here

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Upper Columbia River Group - Sierra Club

P.O. Box 413

Spokane, WA  99210

Sierra Club
Environmental History Project

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