Ed Marston, former publisher of High Country News, dies at 78

West Nile virus claims one of the West’s great visionaries.


Edwin “Ed” Marston, a physicist turned environmental journalist and political organizer, died Aug. 31 in Grand Junction, Colorado, of complications of West Nile virus. He was 78 years old. He is survived by his wife and working partner, Betsy Marston, of Paonia, Colorado.

Ed Marston was born April 25, 1940, in New York to Jack and Matilda Marston, both European immigrants. He graduated from New York’s competitive Stuyvesant High School in 1958, and from the City College of New York in 1961. He earned his doctorate in solid-state physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1968.

Ed Marston in Delta County, Colorado.
Celia Roberts

In 1966, Marston married Elizabeth “Betsy” Pilat, a public television producer, in New York. The couple had two children and lived in the tri-state area. During this period, Marston worked as an assistant professor of physics at Queens College of New York, and then as an associate professor of physics at Ramapo College of New Jersey. His textbook for non-physics college students, The Dynamic Environment, was published during his teaching career.

In 1974, the Marstons and their two children Wendy, aged 4, and David, aged 2, moved across the country to Paonia, Colorado, a coal mining and orchard town of 1,400 people below the mountains where the family had built a summer cabin. The plan was to take a year off, but just months into the year, the Marstons started the weekly North Fork Times, and he never returned to the field of physics. The Marstons sold their first paper in 1980, and in 1982 founded an environmental paper to cover the western slope of Colorado, the Western Colorado Report. In 1983, they folded that publication into the bi-weekly High Country News, which covered environmental issues primarily in Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, as well as the entire western United States. 

Courtesy of Betsy Marston
Marston became publisher of High Country News, which continues to cover the West for its 35,000 subscribers who live all over the country. His wife, Betsy Marston, was his partner in all journalistic ventures. He held that writing and administrative post for 19 years until 2002, when he retired.

As the publisher of High Country News, Marston received the prestigious George Polk award for journalism in 1986 for the series “Western Water Made Simple,” which was later published as a book. In 1990, the University of Colorado, Boulder, awarded him its first Wallace Stegner Award “for faithfully and evocatively depicting the spirit of the American West.”

Marston wrote and published pieces that helped define the American West. These included an interview with Floyd Dominy, the chief of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation; an analysis of the amenity economy; and a profile of progressive ranchers that brought conservation and agriculture together.

Marston was always involved in public life, serving for 18 years on the elected Delta-Montrose Electric Association co-op board, as well as terms with volunteer boards including Delta County Economic Development, Paonia Chamber of Commerce, Solar Energy International, and the Blue Sage Community Art Center. In 2008, he and his wife were named “Champions of the Rockies,” an honor given by Colorado College as part of its State of the Rockies annual report.

Marston was a fierce defender of the West’s birthright of public lands and a generous mentor with young and emerging writers. Many of the writers Marston worked with went on to brilliant careers in journalism and public service. 

Betsy and Ed Marston stand in their backyard in Paonia, Colorado.
Courtesy of the Marston family

Marston was a burr in the side of the U.S. Forest Service during the 1990s. One of his notable editorials was headlined: “It’s time to clear cut the Forest Service.” He was also a commercial developer of Paonia’s two-block downtown and a fierce opponent of anyone — no matter how well funded and powerful — who used political influence to try to close off access to wilderness. Between 2012 and 2015, Marston fought a drawn-out battle with billionaire Bill Koch, who tried to use a congressional land swap to block public access to the Raggeds Wilderness and its elk herd. Ultimately Marston blocked Koch. 

Marston is survived by his wife of 52 years, Betsy, who lives in Paonia; daughter Wendy Lehmann and her husband Benjamin Lehmann, and their children Maude and Bruno; and son David Marston and his wife, Edel Clarke, and their daughter Sorcha, all of New York. His also leaves his sister, Ann Rock, of Florida; and cousin Steve Lidofsky and his wife, Lis, of Vermont.

Marston was known to be engaged and curious about issues, politics and people. He had definite, well-informed ideas about the correct way to do things and was an energetic ally and a formidable foe in local and regional disputes. He loved to think about how to solve problems, and although he found Delta County frustrating in many ways, he loved working with local government, organizations and citizens to make changes. Marston thrived on conversation and was never shy about asking people about their lives. He also belonged to a book club that he found stretched his mind.

A city kid who grew up in Queens, New York, and worked as a bicycle Good Humor ice cream vendor during the summers, Marston said that rural life brought out the best of him. He was an avid hiker and cross-country skier and appreciated living close to the natural world. Most of all, he was grateful that he and his family chose, 44 years ago, to make a leap of faith and settle in the small town of Paonia, a place Marston protected, agitated and cherished.

Ed Marston published many pieces over the years that reflect his ethical vision for the West. Read a few of them here:

How Lake Powell almost broke free of Glen Canyon Dam this summer, 1983

A neighborly approach to sustainable public-lands grazing, 1992

Raising a ranch from the dead, 1996

Denying the warts in the West’s service economy, 1996

The old West is going under, 1998

Over the decades, Ed Marston had a significant impact on the lives of many people. If you have a story you’d like to share about him, please send to [email protected] and include ‘Ed Marston’ in the subject line.

Betsy Marston has held many roles at High Country News and is currently the Writers on the Range editor.