Speed Reads

RIP

Conservationist Martin Litton, who kept dams out of the Grand Canyon, has died at 97

Boatman, conservationist, businessman, journalist, and political activist Martin Litton passed away yesterday at his home in Palo Alto, California. He served as a glider pilot for the Army Air Corps in the Second World War, and later worked as a journalist for Sunset magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Environmental activism would become his lifelong passion. In 1955, he was the 185th recorded person to traverse the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, and still holds the record for oldest person to row himself down the river, from a 2004 trip he did at age 87. He also founded and operated his own river company, Grand Canyon Dories, which ran unconventional wooden boats.

He is best known for the political struggle in the 1960s over damming the Grand Canyon. Dams were one of the major vectors of pork-barrel politics in those days, and the Bureau of Reclamation had large hydroelectric dams planned at two points within the canyon. Together with David Brower, then-director the Sierra Club, and other activists like Edward Abbey, Litton managed a successful political mobilization against the projects.

This section from River Runners of the Grand Canyon, a 1994 documentary by Don Briggs, tells the story well.

Litton is survived by his wife, Esther, and three children.