Magazine article Sunset

Champions of the West

Magazine article Sunset

Champions of the West

Article excerpt


Meet our backyard heroes-eight people and organizations that have saved forests, restored rivers, built trails, and made the West a better place to live

Six months ago, we asked Sunset readers to send in nominations for our first Environmental Awards. Nominations poured in by the hundreds-by phone, by letter, by e-mail. Now we are pleased to announce the eight winners of Sunset's 2003 Environmental Awards. (Many of the other worthy entries will be highlighted in later issues.)

Each of these eight success stories shows how much good one person or one small group can accomplish. If you're seeking inspiration or practical advice on improving your own corner of the West, read on. RIVERS, OCEANS, AND BEACHES

Melanie Winter, The River Project

Fixing a forgotten waterway

STUDIO CITY, CA. Melanie Winter stands above the Los Angeles River, looking down at the property known as Taylor Yard. From here, it looks like industrial hardscape. But Taylor Yard is a major victory in the fight to restore this neglected river-a fight that Winter helps lead as the director of the nonprofit River Project.

"A very lush and pleasing spot, in every respect," explorer Father Juan Crespi wrote in 1769, lauding the Los Angeles River. But since 1938, when flood-control projects began to encase the river in concrete, most of it has been as pleasing as a parking lot.

A former Broadway performer, Winter first took note of the river when she returned to Los Angeles to care for her parents. She joined up with Friends of the Los Angeles River, which since the 1980s had pushed for restoration of the waterway. "When I connected to the river effort, I realized it encompassed everything I'd been trying to do. Open space. Community."

In 2000, Winter founded the River Project. The 3-mile Taylor Yard riverbank is the project's most high-profile success. Winter forged a coalition of local groups to get $45 million in state funds to establish the LA. River's largest park-an oasis that one day may resemble the lush stream praised by Crespf. -Matthew Jaffe

The River Project, www. theriverproject. org or (818) 980-9660.


Mitch Friedman, NWEA

An activist comes of age BELLINGHAM, WA. It's easy to be arrested for blocking a timber sale. But it's hard to build consensus among varied interests, and harder still to preserve enough land to make a difference to endangered species. Yet Mitch Friedman has done it all.

Friedman founded the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance (NWEA). Since 1989, NWEA has preserved wildlife habitats by forging partnerships across the political spectrum, from forest products companies to Earth First members. NWEA's first big accomplishment was preserving Washington's Loomis State Forest, a vital grizzly bear habitat. Now it's focused on raising $90 million to purchase the "checkerboard" of forested private lands that help comprise key wildlife corridors between Mt. Rainier and Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

It's all a far cry from Friedman's 1980s career as Earth First environmental protester. But, he says, he came to realize that civil disobedience has its limits. "I kept getting arrested with the same six hippies. Here we were, getting carried away with how radical we were, to the exclusion of building strategic alliances." slim McCausland

NWEA, or (800) 878-9950.


Tyler Jones, CDA

Living life more

GRAND JUNCTiON, Co. "Controlled chaos" is how Tyler Jones describes the activity at Colorado Discover Ability Integrated Outdoor Adventures (CDA) on the slopes of Powderhorn Ski Resort. Each season, several hundred skiers move through the CDA office at this small, three-- lift resort-people in wheelchairs, blind skiers, and more. All are here because of Jones.

A self-described ski bum and river rat, Jones's initial experience with disabled skiers came from working with stepson Brandon Maser (shown above, in front of Jones), who has cerebral palsy. …

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