High Country News: Tragedy and transition

The second in a series celebrating our 45th anniversary

 

The horse appeared on the highway in the darkness “with all the feral dignity of a grenade,” remembers Dan Whipple. It was August 1978, and Whipple and three other HCN staff members were returning home to Lander, Wyoming, after a concert — Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

The car swerved to dodge the horse and careened off the road. HCN editor Justas Bavarskis died instantly; the three others lay badly injured in the silent night. Hours passed; a lone coyote was the only passerby.

Whipple nearly died, and spent days in the hospital. Reflecting on the accident in 1989, he describes Bavarskis’ death as “so tragic that ... I can’t construct any meaning to it.” But he and the other HCN staffers — Marjane Ambler and Jazmyn McDonald — were deeply moved when readers donated over $30,000 toward their medical bills.

Justas Bavarskis, former HCN editor, taking a break.
Lorna Wilkes

Even before the accident, HCN was in transition. An energy boom was roaring across the West, and “many of the abstract problems High Country News had earlier warned about had become real,” former HCN editor Joan Nice wrote in 1989. “Most of the big dailies in the West had their own environmental reporters. Did the region still need HCN? Maybe, we decided, if it became more lively, provocative and perceptive.”

Bavarskis — a seasoned writer with a sharp wit — had those qualities. Ambler recalled how he “sloshed through ankle-deep mud in a uranium mine” and pursued leads at the union bar. The accident that killed him occurred just a few short months after he arrived.

So Geoffrey O’Gara stepped in as editor. He stretched HCN’s environmental news into more literary terrain, improved the tabloid’s design and appearance, raised salaries and bought new typesetting equipment. He also solidified HCN’s nonprofit model, establishing a board of directors and acquiring tax-exempt status- — a rare and complicated legal move at the time.

HCN staff in the early ’80s, from left, Jill Bamberg, Carol Jones, designer Kathy Bogan, who redesigned the newspaper, and Dan Whipple.
Mike McClure

Nice stepped back from HCN after having a child. When O’Gara moved on to broadcast journalism, Whipple took over, though a year later, in 1983, he decided to leave as well. He told the board of directors that he knew of nobody in Lander able to lead the newspaper onward. HCN now stood on the threshold of its greatest transition — the move to Paonia, Colorado.

Read more about Justas Bavarskis and the accident, plus articles from the HCN archives selected by Geoffrey O’Gara and Dan Whipple to highlight their time at HCN.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.