Ed Marston, remembered

Thoughts on HCN’s former publisher from people whose lives he impacted.

  • Staffers Florence Williams, Steve Hinchman and Lisa Jones, 1991.

    HCN files
  • Jon Christensen unloads a stack of the Great Basin special issue he edited in 1995.

    HCN files
  • Betsy and Ed Marston, partners in work and in life, pictured with stacks of back issues of High Country News for a 1999 Denver Post profile.

    Ed Kosmicki
  • An early 1990s mail crew included Charles Wilkinson, far left, Paul Larmer and Ray Ring, center, and Ed, among other HCN staffers and interns.

    HCN files
  • Greg Hanscom and JT Thomas hang a new HCN sign, 1998.

    HCN files
  • Ed and Betsy Marston, center, in the production room of High Country News' original Paonia location, along with staffers Linda Bacigalupi and Florence Williams. (Steve Hinchman in the background.)

    HCN files
  • Ed and Betsy Marston with High Country News founder Tom Bell, center, during a gathering in Lander, Wyoming, in 2000.

    HCN files

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, two children and three grandchildren.

Ed became publisher of High Country News in 1983, and during his 19 years with the publication, he wrote and published pieces that helped define not only the American West, but also shaped many journalists, Western residents and others who encountered him. Some of their remembrances are here.

Ed grew up in a New York City immigrant household that was so short of money, for years he and his sister and his father and mother slept in the same bedroom. In such a crowded home, he developed a love for conversation, spoken and written. He continued to enjoy conversation with everybody he met. He understood that all of us are sharing a single room, and we better get along as best we can.

—Ray Ring, author and former HCN senior editor


I knew Ed during his years at Ramapo College, New Jersey. He was an outstanding teacher, and he helped develop our physics major. He was respected by his faculty colleagues and his students for his deep interest in environmental issues.

—Edward Saiff, dean, School of Theoretical and Applied Science, Ramapo College of New Jersey 


I had heard a lot about Ed Marston prior to arriving on the job as forest supervisor for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Many branded him as an unrelenting critic of the Forest Service. What I discovered, however, was a man who, above all, loved tall mountains, clear rivers, scenic vistas, a good hike, and the complex ecosystems that are our national forests. We debated often — and without filters — about how the Forest Service could better provide natural resource protection while remaining a vital partner in the social and economic fabric of Colorado’s Western Slope. While we never came to total agreement on how to implement the agency’s complex mission, we definitely had fun trying! As agencies continue to adapt to the many competing demands on our wild lands, we can only hope that others will follow in the footsteps of Ed Marston.

—Charlie Richmond, national director of rangeland management and vegetation ecology, U.S. Forest Service


I was cleaning condos in Snowmass, Colorado, driving to work every day over McClure Pass, when Ed Marston offered me a job. We met at Paonia’s coffee shop. He entered the place eyebrows first and glided over to me with his characteristic light-footed gait. “Have Western land grants evolved with the times?” he asked. “Are they living up to their mandate to protect rural Western communities even as the frontier has disappeared and fewer and fewer Westerners work the land?” He’d written his ideas down in a one-page letter to the Ford Foundation, and they’d given him a grant to investigate the matter. It was two and a half years of work, Ed said. Health insurance. Bye-bye condos. I jumped in. Some land grant universities may have fallen down on sustaining the communities they were mandated to help. But not Betsy. Not Ed.

—Lisa Jones, author and former HCN reporter 


What Ed and Betsy built at HCN has changed the way people think about and report on the West. I see his spirit of deeper interest in the complexity of the region in stories in Outside, Sierra and even sometimes The New York Times

—Sean Patrick Farrell, former HCN intern and staff video producer for WIRED 


Ed taught me that perhaps the most important quality of all, for a journalist, is compassion. I remember a talking-to he gave me when I disparaged a local farmer: “Do you know how much a farmer has to understand about business, about the land, about markets?” We always said that Ed saw the West from 20,000 feet, but his vision was grounded in the stories of countless individuals. “It’s a ballgame,” Ed told me once. “Every day, you go out there and you play your heart out. You do the very best that you can. And sometimes you win. Often you don’t. But either way, tomorrow there’s going to be another game.” Without the kind of journalism that the Marstons taught us to practice, we would not understand ourselves, our communities, or the places we love. We would lack the kind of vision that Ed knew we needed to function as a society and a democracy, the kind of vision you can only get by talking to people — and listening.  

—Greg Hanscom, former HCN editor and executive editor of Crosscut and KCTS 9 public television


Ed was a towering figure in the West. We are all far better people for having known him. And the lands, waters, communities and people of the West are far better for Ed’s passion and wisdom. He will be sorely missed, even as he continues to inspire our work. -          

—Liz Storer and Luther Propst, conservationists and former board member (Luther)


I loved Ed like a brother — with all the uncomfortable implications. We worked some things out through passionate discourse, to put it a little euphemistically. But he left me — and all of us who think on it — with a lot of articulation and some forward action on three great challenges for the 21st century: (1) Make our energy lives renewable and sustainable; (2) fix the mistakes of the 20th century (in land and water restoration); and (3) work from the ground up. Don’t wait for the feds to do it.

—George Sibley, writer and teacher 


We invited Ed to be the inspirational speaker at the Citizen Alert board retreat in Baker, Nevada, in 1988. I still remember him talking about how we must stop romanticizing the rural West. He said it was one of the most dangerous places in the country, and cited statistics on accidental deaths, suicide, drug abuse and domestic violence. He told us to have a more accurate and honest conversation about it, and to cease thinking about the West as an idyllic place or playground. The last time I saw Ed was a very chance encounter when I was hiking outside Paonia, and came upon him and Betsy alongside the trail. I had lost my water bottle. Ed offered me his.

—Bob Fulkerson, HCN board member and executive director, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada


In 2003 or 2004, my wife, Stephanie, was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting. She was waiting for an airport shuttle when she looked up and saw turkey vultures soaring overhead. She pointed them out to the man next to her, who introduced himself as Ed Marston. When she came home, she told me about meeting Ed, and I was as excited as if she had met Edward Abbey.

—Daniel Gossett, biologist, National Wildlife Research Center


 I often still think about Ed Marston’s reply to the first story that I pitched to him as a freelance writer in the late 1980s. I had visited an armed encampment in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, where Amador Flores and his supporters had occupied land they claimed was rightfully theirs under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Ed wrote back to tell me he wasn’t interested in “dead-end standoffs.” He asked if there was anything else going on that might reveal what was happening in the community and on the land. And, indeed, there was. The focus of my story shifted to Ganados del Valle, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing sheep-herding and wool-weaving traditions to create viable business opportunities for Hispanic communities in northern New Mexico, and, in the process, re-establish a livelihood based on the surrounding public lands. In a land full of regular, re-occurring, dead-end standoffs, I never forgot Ed’s interest in learning what else was happening that might help us better understand how people, families, communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, advocates, rabblerousers, government and the environment were all changing around each other in our own lifetimes in the American West.

—Jon Christensen, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability 


Ed represented the best of old-fashioned journalism. He always did his homework, and avoided the extreme slashing-and-bashing hyperbole of outfits like Fox News and MSNBC. And his dialogue was always thoughtfully reasoned. That did not prevent him, however, from occasionally producing a thundering “Ed”itorial, where he took people or issues to task when it was called for. Ed, they don’t make them like you anymore. Give ‘em hell up there … or at least teach courses in responsible, tempered journalism.

—Andy Wiessner, HCN board member 


Together, Betsy and Ed turned HCN into a force for making the West a better place. I think what often goes unappreciated is how much they both did to create a generation of topnotch journalists and thinkers who work not only in the West but far beyond. Just off the top of my head, I can think of HCN alumni who are doing great work at the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, the L.A. Times and the Salt Lake Tribune, to say nothing of lots of local publications. In a world where good journalism is truly imperiled, that by itself counts as a solid lifetime achievement. 

—Matt Jenkins, former HCN editor and senior editor, Nature Conservancy


When we first met Ed and Betsy decades ago, they asked us if we knew the name of that strange animal they’d seen in Wyoming’s Red Desert. It was a pronghorn, and we wondered if High Country News was in the right hands with these Eastern dudes. But they proved themselves more than up to the task and the right ones for the job in so many ways, growing the circulation and racking up well-deserved awards, friends, and critics. The West has lost a true champion.

—Bruce and Joan Hamilton, former HCN editors


Ed chortled and exhorted me to bring assertiveness and authority to my writing. Tell me something we don’t know, he’d say. Why does this story matter? At my wedding, Ed made a toast: “My name is Ed Marston, and I work for Florence.” In fact, Ed worked for all of us. He worked on our behalf. He worked to make us better writers, and more rigorous thinkers, to make us less ideological and more humane, to care about communities and people and not just iconic landscapes. He taught us to think about institutions and social structures and the future of civility. I don’t think we — or the West — always lived up to his expectations, but he never got bitter. He just got more thoughtful, and he inspired us to be that way, too.

—Florence Williams, HCN board member and author

We invite you to share your thoughts on Ed in the comments.

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