The Northwest’s Outdoor Heroes, Past and Present

northwest heroesLong before the North­west became hip for Port­landia and high-tech, it was defined by the nat­ur­al world that made it a desir­able place to live.

That envi­ron­ment drew many peo­ple to the region—some famous, most entire­ly unheard of—and here are some of the Northwest’s out­door heroes, past and present.

Tom McCallTom McCall
Most of Oregon’s pio­neer­ing envi­ron­men­tal policies—public beach­es, statewide land-use plan­ning to reduce sprawl, the replace­ment of Portland’s Har­bor Boule­vard with a pub­lic park, the first cleanup of the Willamette Riv­er, and the first Bot­tle Bill—they all date from the admin­is­tra­tion of Tom McCall, Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor from 1967 to 1975. In some ways, he was an unlike­ly envi­ron­men­tal hero: a Repub­li­can news­cast­er with lim­it­ed leg­isla­tive experience.

He was con­front­ed with an attempt to pri­va­tize Oregon’s beach­es in his first few months in office. He broke a leg­isla­tive stale­mate with an off-the-cuff pub­lic rela­tions coup: land­ing a heli­copter on the beach with TV cam­eras rolling. He’s also the only well-known per­son on this list—which sums up one of his quotes: “Heroes are not giant stat­ues raised against a red sky. They are peo­ple who say ‘this is my com­mu­ni­ty and it’s my respon­si­bil­i­ty to make it better.’”

Natal­ie Fobes
A Seat­tle-based pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Fobes pho­tographed the after­math of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alas­ka in 1989. But her major impact came in 1995, when she pub­lished Reach­ing Home: Pacif­ic Salmon, Pacif­ic Peo­ple, a pho­to­graph­ic depic­tion of the impor­tance of salmon to both human cul­ture and ecol­o­gy of the Pacif­ic North­west. The project helped launch the move­ment to pro­tect salmon, which were list­ed as an endan­gered species in much of the region about the same time.

The project was over a decade in the mak­ing, with count­less naysay­ers: mag­a­zine edi­tors who want­ed to know why she want­ed to pho­to­graph fish and pub­lish­ers who sug­gest­ed a cook­book instead. She showed them—the project was a final­ist for the Pulitzer Prize and was pub­lished in Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. Fobes hasn’t stopped using her lens to the envi­ron­ment; she co-found­ed the Blue Earth Alliance, which helps pho­tog­ra­phers use their cam­eras to aid conservation.

Charles JordanCharles Jor­dan
The City of Portland’s first African-Amer­i­can City Com­mis­sion­er, and direc­tor of the Parks Bureau for 14 years, Jor­dan led Port­land Parks from a “nice” bureau to one that was core to Portland’s iden­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of life. He estab­lished 44 new parks and recre­ation cen­ters, start­ed movies in the park, and cre­at­ed the clear link between healthy parks, a healthy pop­u­la­tion, and a city’s vibran­cy. “In staff meet­ings, Charles would also tell us, ‘this is not fun and games. What we do helps peo­ple. It helps them be proud of their neigh­bor­hoods, it helps them feel good about them­selves, it helps them feel like part of a com­mu­ni­ty,’” Zari Sant­ner, who worked for Jor­dan and suc­ceed­ed him as parks direc­tor, told the Ore­gon­ian when Jor­dan passed away in 2014.

Ian McAl­lis­ter
British Columbia’s Cen­tral Coast, also known as the Great Bear Rain­for­est, is vast, remote, thin­ly pop­u­lat­ed, and so hard to access that it’s eas­i­ly over­looked. But the maze of rugged islands and inlets is one of the most eco­log­i­cal­ly rich and threat­ened places in North Amer­i­ca. From his sail­boat, fre­quent­ly docked near the Heilt­suk vil­lage of Bel­la Bel­la, McAl­lis­ter directs Pacif­ic Wild which has fought off multi­na­tion­al log­ging com­pa­nies, griz­zly bear poach­ers, mines, and tar sands pipelines, includ­ing get­ting two recent wins: a major land con­ser­va­tion agree­ment and a stop­ping a major oil pipeline.

Nancy RussellNan­cy Russell
The Colum­bia Gorge, despite its beau­ty, faces a lot of risk of oil spills. Devel­op­ment push­es out from Port­land and from Gorge com­mu­ni­ties like The Dalles and Hood Riv­er. In the 1970s, Gorge lovers Russ Jol­ley and John Yeon, seek­ing some­one to help pre­serve the Gorge, land­ed on a home­mak­er with no orga­niz­ing or polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence. In Nan­cy Rus­sell, they unleashed a con­ser­va­tion hurricane.

Chan­nel­ing the dri­ve that had made her an ama­teur ten­nis cham­pi­on, she pushed end­less­ly for con­serv­ing pub­lic land and scenic char­ac­ter in the Gorge, often against very per­son­al oppo­si­tion. “Save the Gorge from Nan­cy Rus­sell” stick­ers pushed back against moves to pro­tect the Gorge, and she came out of one hear­ing to find her car tires punc­tured. Undaunt­ed, she notched the defin­ing vic­to­ry when Gorge Scenic Act became law in 1986. What was once con­sid­ered a far-fetched quest is not one of the Northwest’s best places.

David Sohap­py
The Yaka­ma had fished for salmon for mil­len­nia along the Colum­bia, and their tra­di­tion­al fish­ing rights were enshrined in the treaty they tribe signed with the Unit­ed States in 1855…supposedly. Like many treaties signed with Native Amer­i­cans, it was large­ly ignored. Sohap­py, who fished at Cook’s Land­ing near the meet­ing of the Lit­tle White Salmon and the Colum­bia, filed suit in 1968 to pre­vent inter­fer­ence with treaty rights.

Dur­ing the next two decades of appeals, Sohap­py con­tin­ued to ignore state fish­ing ordi­nances and assert their treaty rights. In 1981, he and 74 oth­ers were arrest­ed for ille­gal fish­ing and giv­en a sen­tence of five years in prison. Sohap­py vs. Smith was even­tu­al­ly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, lead­ing to the re-estab­lish­ment of native fish­ing rights on the Colum­bia “at all usu­al and accus­tomed places”, but Sohap­py did not live to see it: he died five months before the decision.

The peo­ple on this list have one thing in com­mon: they’re nor­mal peo­ple with every­day lives who decid­ed that the out­doors was some­thing they loved that need­ed pro­tect­ing and did some­thing about it. So can you.