The Legacy of Martin Litton
What is wilderness? It’s mankind’s acknowledgment that there is a higher value, a higher purpose. It ceases to be wilderness when we’re here. But we are its stewards. It is vital to our souls. It is the source of much of our inspiration. ~ Martin Litton, 1917 – 2014
On November 30, 2014, the river community not only lost a legend, but a hero—Grand Canyon river-running pioneer and renowned conservationist Martin Litton.
The founder of one of the original commercial river running companies on the Colorado River—Grand Canyon Dories—and a longtime activist for the Sierra Club, Litton will be remembered for his critical role in some of the most important environmental battles in history. In fact, no single person had a greater impact on saving the Grand Canyon from being dammed than Litton. But his passion for the environment stretched far beyond the Colorado River and the Canyon. In his long career as an environmental crusader, Litton also helped block two dams inside Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument, several dams along Idaho’s Snake River and won countless other battles.
Later in life, Litton became passionate about California’s redwoods, and in 2001, he helped create Sequoia ForestKeeper, a non-profit organization to serve as the “eyes, ears and voice of the forest.” And though his focus may have shifted over the years from rivers to forests, it was clear to those who knew him best that the Grand Canyon always held the most special place in his heart.
At the age of 87, Litton set the record as the oldest person to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. On that trip he shared this of the canyon, “It’s my world, and I don’t want any other.” He continued, “What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.” Later, in 2007 at the age of 90, he would take his final dory trip down the Colorado River.
A longtime friend of OARS, we celebrate his life and dedication to the natural environment along with all of those who had the chance to be inspired by him throughout his 97 years. George Wendt, OARS Founder and President, shares this…
“Martin was an amazing guy and the entire Grand Canyon community owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the vital conservation work he did. I am happy to remember him as a good friend from the time we first met in the canyon in 1968 and I feel privileged to have done a river trip in the Grand Canyon with him in 2004 when he—at age 87—rowed all of the rapids, including Lava Falls. The stories that he shared were legendary. His contributions to the preservation of the Grand Canyon and the redwoods in California need to stand as an inspiration to us all as to what one man, supported by a wonderful wife (Thanks, Esther!), can accomplish.”
In Litton’s own words, “It doesn’t take many voices to make things right, just strong voices.”
This short tribute to Litton cannot even begin to encompass his many achievements, all he has done for the planet, and the many ways he’ll be remembered. For more great words from and about our dear friend, keep reading…
Martin Litton in the News
Martin Litton – A Legend by Sequoia ForestKeeper Staff
River Runners of the Grand Canyon, Documentary by Don Briggs (1994)
“The Old Man and the River” by John Balzar, Los Angeles Times (1997)
“Ain’t It Just Grand” by Kevin Fedarko, Outside Magazine (2005)
VIDEO: Meet Martin Litton, Grand Canyon Dories by Lauren De Remer, The Eddy (2012)
“Martin Litton Dies at 97; Passionate Wilderness Conservationist” by Betina Boxall, Los Angeles Times (2014)
“Martin Litton, Conservationist, Dies at 97,” Outside Magazine (December 1, 2014)
“Martin Litton, Legendary Conservation Leader, Dies at Age 97,” San Jose Mercury News (December 1, 2014)
“Appreciation: Lessons From the Man Who Stopped Grand Canyon Dams,” National Geographic (December 2, 2014)
“Martin Litton Remembered at Fervent Conservationist,” NPR (December 4, 2014)
“Martin Litton, Fighter for Environment, Dies at 97,” New York Times (December 6, 2014)
“Adventure Travel Industry Remembers River-Running Conservationist Martin Litton,” Adventure Travel News (December 17, 2014)
Learn More About Martin Litton’s Legacy
Photos: John Blaustein