A Great Old Broad

 

Celia Hunter, legendary wilderness advocate, died peacefully at home in her log cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Dec. 1. She was 82.

Though Celia's work has been lauded by the nation's major environmental groups, nothing speaks more about her life than how she lived her last days on earth. Last summer, Celia donned a drysuit and helmet to raft the Nenana and Copper rivers. Just two weeks after Sept. 11, she followed through on plans to attend meetings and visit friends and family in the Northwest and New Mexico. The day before her passing, she went skiing, and that night she telephoned friends, urging them to vote against proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Celia's remarkable life began Jan. 13, 1919, in Arlington, Wash. She learned to fly at Everett Airport, earning a private pilot license in 1941. When World War II began, she joined the Women's Air Service Pilots corps (WASP), where she flew planes as a ferry pilot to military bases across America. Here, she met Ginny Wood, another pilot from Washington state, who was to be her lifelong friend and companion.

After the war, Celia and Ginny settled permanently in the woods outside Fairbanks, building cabins without electricity or running water. Eventually Ginny married Woody Wood, who joined Celia and Ginny in founding Camp Denali, a wilderness lodge adjacent to Denali National Park, where for 25 years, they sponsored educational outings to raise awareness of Alaska's wild country.

In 1960, Celia and Ginny helped found the Alaska Conservation Society. The two fought many state and federal projects that threatened wilderness in Alaska and the Lower 48, and worked to pass the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Celia's list of awards and appointments is staggering. In the 1970s, she was appointed to the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska, which dealt with land-use conflicts and policy issues following statehood. From the late 1960s to 1978, she served on the Governing Council of The Wilderness Society. In 1991, both Celia and Ginny were given the John Muir Award, the Sierra Club's highest honor, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness honored them as Canyon Crones in 1995. Last summer, the two were awarded lifetime achievement awards by the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

In the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner where Celia had been a columnist since 1979, Mary Beth Smetzer wrote that Celia "followed her passion, educated herself on the issues, formed alliances across the spectrum, and remained willing to keep talking and listening no matter how fervent the disagreement."

She lived by her own advice: "Live simply; volunteer for your community; and be the best you can be."

The Alaska Conservation Foundation is setting up a memorial fund and an endowment fund in Celia Hunter's name. For more information, contact the foundation at 441 W. Fifth Avenue, Suite 402, Anchorage, AK 99501-2340, [email protected] or 907/276-1917.

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Susan Morgan

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