Fishing at the Sand Creek ponds north of St Anthony last summer, I met Craig Cutler and his family.
They were exploring new country and Cutler was amazed at the beautiful area. He was surprised he had never heard of it, although he lives in Blackfoot, just an hour away.
We chatted about how The Department of Fish and Game began acquiring land in the area over 60 years ago and had slowly built Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area into a significant force for conservation, wildlife production and wildlife-based recreation. Several times during our conversation, Craig expressed gratitude that someone in the past had had the foresight to protect this wonderful place. I couldn’t agree more.
Much of what we enjoy, even take for granted, today, is the result of hard work, personal sacrifice and total dedication to natural resources of people from the past.
There are names that will be revered forever: Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell and Jay “Ding” Darling and many more, men and women whose fingerprints can be found on much of the conservation of today. The value of their vision, leadership and determination cannot be overstated.
Others, like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Olaus and Mardy Murie shaped our thinking and deepened our understanding, creating a foundation of professional resource management that endures today.
Still other heroes were legislators, such as Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson. They were successful in redirecting a federal tax on firearms and ammunition into a funding source for wildlife research and management.
Without these heavy hitters, conservation would look very different today. But everywhere we travel, we also find stories of local heroes. These people were farmers, artists, miners, fishermen, housewives, bankers or from any other walk of life. The one thing they have in common is that they found something they loved and they fought for it.
Most recently we encountered the story of John Otto. Otto was a 36 year old miner when he discovered the beauties of the redrock canyons west of Fruita, Colorado. In 1907 Otto said, “I came here last year and found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”
With boundless and contagious enthusiasm, he started fundraising campaigns, collected signatures for petitions, conducted tours on trails he built, talked to journalists and penned editorials, wrote endlessly to Washington officials and convinced many others to do so as well. In 1911, Otto’s vision was finally realized when President Taft declared the place, Colorado National Monument, and hired John Otto as its first custodian at a salary of one dollar a month.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for heroes of the past who determined that natural treasures would not fall on their watch. And I wonder, who will be the heroes our great-grandkids will be grateful for?
The beautiful vistas of Colorado National Monument were protected more than 100 years ago by the dedication and work of John Otto. Like Otto, each of us must fight for the things we love or they won't be there for future generations to enjoy.