Originally published on National Geographic on May 20, 2016
We need more fighters like Martin Litton.
We all have the opportunity to experience the Grand Canyon, in no small part because of one man’s vision and his refusal to compromise. Without Martin’s will and determination to protect it from proposed dams in the 1960s, the Grand Canyon could have faced the same fate as Glen Canyon just upstream. Martin knew this better than anyone, and he successfully made the case that the Grand Canyon was worth saving. In fact, it was his fiery speech that convinced David Brower and the Sierra Club to wage an all-out war against the two dams—and win.
“Nature has its rights,” Martin once said. “It has a right to be here untrammeled, unfettered. Man doesn’t have to screw everything up.”
For me, the drowning of Glen Canyon followed by this monumental victory on the Grand, delivered the realization that such wild places need to preserved and protected for future generations, and that this would only happen if they were shared so that people would know what was at stake. It prompted me to make this my life’s work and to continue with Martin’s tradition of running dories through the Grand Canyon and on other rivers in the West.
In Kevin Fedarko’s book The Emerald Mile, he wrote that Martin “inaugurated a tradition of naming every craft after a natural wonder that, in his view, had been heedlessly destroyed by the hand of man “to remind us of places we’ve destroyed without any necessity, so that maybe we’ll think twice before we do it again.” The tradition evolved over the years to include names of places that were only threatened by human development or activities, not yet destroyed and absolutely worth fighting for.
May these stories be a reminder to all of us that conservation is a fight that is never over. Even this place—the crown jewel of the National Park System and the Grandest Canyon on Earth—faces a triple threat of development, diversion, and mining.
What we allow to happen here, in the Grand Canyon, is what will write our story across the American West—and our world. If we are not willing to protect the Grand Canyon, what are we willing to protect?
We have a historic opportunity now, in President Obama’s last months in office, to protect the Grand Canyon watershed as a national monument. The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument would permanently protect 1.7 million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. I urge President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act in his final days in office to safeguard this national treasure and clean water source for all Americans today and into the future—and I urge all of us to step up and continue this fight in the years to come.
After their victory on the Grand Canyon, David Brower began referring to Martin as his “conscience.” As we continue our fight to protect the Grand Canyon and all of our public lands and waters, let Martin continue to be our conscience as we face down threats and continue to live on in his legacy. We owe it to him and to ourselves to ensure that the Grand Canyon exists as it is, safeguarded now and forever—and enjoyed by all.
In Litton’s own words, “It doesn’t take many voices to make things right, just strong voices.” So let us step up and fight to protect what is ours, and let us start with the Grand Canyon.
George Wendt is the Founder and President of the O.A.R.S. Family of Companies. Martin’s Boat, a film by National Geographic filmmaker Pete McBride and O.A.R.S. Rafting Company, is a tribute to Martin Litton. It will screen at the 38th Annual Telluride Mountainfilm Festival May 27 to 30, and will be available to the public on June 1, 2016 on martinsboat.com.