Battle Tested in Word and Song, a Local Envionmentalist Chronicles the Area's Historical Assault on Its Air, Land and Water

Article excerpt

ROGER TAYLOR has preferred to stay in the background of the environmental battles fought in the St. Louis area over the last few decades.

An earlier step into the limelight cost him the back seat of his car.

"Dynamite Damages Auto Of Scenic Rivers Leader" read a front-page headline in the Post-Dispatch of April 28, 1970. A picture showed a sheriff's deputy peering into the bombed-out back seat of Taylor's '68 Chevy.

Those were scary times, recalled Taylor, who was leading a campaign to enact zoning to protect Missouri's scenic rivers.

"I almost got hung in Steelville," said Taylor. "We eventually dropped it because people were getting so violent. They were threatening to shoot us out of our canoes."

Taylor has led a dual life, which may explain why he's not known as well as other local environmental activists.

By day, he was a soft-spoken social studies teacher, often called "Mr. Constitution" by the eighth-graders he taught in the Ritenour School District. Taylor, 54, retired two years ago after a 30-year teaching career.

The rest of the time he donned his cowboy hat and strolled into the middle of the fights to protect the land and rivers he loved - generally in Missouri, and specifically around St. Louis.

He is on the board of the Coalition for the Environment and the Meramec River Recreation Association, among others.

That's why his new book, "Born in the County" (Kestrel Productions, Ballwin), is an interesting read for anybody who gives a hoot about what's happened in the St. Louis area since the Indians left.

From Times Beach to Weldon Spring, from West County Landfill to

Wildwood, Taylor dissects each subject, explaining the history - and what could be the future.

"I hope I just laid out the facts," said Taylor, pointing to 30 volumes of newspaper clippings stacked in his study that helped with his research.

The book is Taylor's third. The first two, "Watershed-1" and "Watershed-2," were histories of the Mississippi River Valley. "For a while, they were the best-selling regional histories," Taylor said.

The genre never will land Taylor on the New York Times' best-seller list. The Watershed books sold about 4,000 copies total, putting Taylor in the black. The initial printing of "Born in the County" is 2,700, with 1 ,500 in sales needed to break even at $12 a book.

"Born in the County" actually was started on a song - or a bunch of songs. Taylor, a musician who dedicated the book to his trusty Martin guitar, has written a number of tunes with an environmental bent.

"Stinky Dinky Doo," for example, is a song he wrote about St. Louis' smelly history of using the Mississippi as a sewer - a practice that continues today when each heavy rain flushes raw sewage into the river.

Thus, the book "Born in the County" is available with either a cassette tape ($10) or a CD ($12) of the songs. Roger Guth, Taylor's cousin - a professional musician who has worked with Jimmy Buffett, Mose Allison, John Oates, among others - produced the musical portion of the work.

The book is written in a folksy tone and, at times, threatens to become somewhat of a vanity work, chronicling the life of Taylor and his ancestors.

"I was very concerned about that," said Taylor. "But I did it so they could see how people lived. That lays the groundwork for what I think is the saddest thing: the loss of community.

"You still have it in U. City, Kirkwood, Webster, the city itself. But you don't find it in areas of uncontrolled growth - Ellisville, Chesterfield, the rest of modern-day suburbia.

"And a sense of community is something that young people really need. …