On Earth Day — 7 areas saved

SLATEApril 22, 2013 


The Jones Hole trail follows a creek that flows through a canyon in Dinosaur National Monument near the Colorado/Utah border. A dam was once proposed for the area.


The first Earth Day, in 1970, was inspired by anger. The nation was a mess. Four million gallons of oil from a blown offshore well were smearing California beaches. Flames leapt from the surface of Ohio's Cuyahoga River. Bald eagles, our national symbol, had been winnowed by hunting and chemical pollution to a few hundred breeding pairs in the lower 48 states. It's no wonder that 20 million people took to the streets.

Here are seven examples of beautiful spots saved, thanks to the environmental movement - open for visits year-round and prime destinations to enjoy.


Half a century ago, San Francisco Bay's shoreline was rimmed with wharves, factories, refineries, ports, trash dumps, and sewage discharge outlets. Then three East Bay women founded the Save San Francisco Bay Association, now known as Save the Bay.

Today a cleaner bay is a magnet for birders, boaters and windsurfers. Industrial salt ponds around its perimeter are being converted back into marshes, and harbor porpoises are returning for the first time in some 70 years.


In the early 1950s, the Bureau of Reclamation announced plans to build a dam on the border of Colorado and Utah, flooding the spectacular Green and Yampa river canyons. The site was in the middle of Dinosaur National Monument, which had received federal protection in 1915 after paleontologists discovered thousands of fossils there. The Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and other conservation groups formed a coalition to block the dam.

They led river trips through the canyons and published photographs, films and a book about the park. Activists pointed out to Congress mistakes in technical calculations published by the bureau to justify the dam. The campaign was a preview of what a united environmental movement could accomplish - even against powerful government enemies.

Congress canceled the plan in 1956, and Dinosaur National Monument remains a hot spot for white-water rafting.


Consolidated Edison, the New York utility, wanted to embed a hydroelectric power facility into the face of this scenic peak on the Hudson River's west bank in the early 1960s. Local citizens, fearing the effect on local fisheries and water supplies, lobbied against the project and won a landmark court ruling establishing that conservation groups could claim standing to sue - even if they were not economically injured, a departure from legal precedents. Some of Scenic Hudson's leaders went on to help found the Natural Resources Defense Council.


President Theodore Roosevelt, urged in 1903 by a group of naturalists, declared a 5-acre hummock near Vero Beach, Fla., at the mouth of the Indian River, a Federal Bird Reservation to protect nesting herons, egrets, spoonbills and other tropical birds that were widely hunted at the time for their decorative feathers - prized ornaments on ladies' hats. The island was about to be opened up for homesteading. Pelican Island became the first unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which now protects more than 150 million acres of lands and waters nationwide.


As first lady, Lady Bird Johnson supported measures to remove junkyards and billboards from U.S. highways and clean up trash and plant gardens across Washington. After Lyndon Johnson left office in 1969, she took those causes back to Texas, where she co-founded the Wildflower Center in 1982 with actress Helen Hayes to protect and preserve native plants. Today the center operates a seed bank, helps communities control invasive plants and adapts concepts like native lawns and green roofs for Southwest conditions.


Glaciers carved Horicon Marsh out of prairie soil in southeastern Wisconsin 12,000 years ago. Over the years it was dammed, undammed, opened for large-scale duck hunting, then drained for farming. In the 1920s and early '30s, its exposed peat soils dried out and repeatedly caught fire, leaving it a literal smoldering ruin. Enter the Izaak Walton League, which lobbied the Wisconsin legislature to restore the marsh. Today Horicon Marsh covers 50 square miles and is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States.

More than 300 species of birds have been sighted there, drawing birders year-round.


The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal runs next to the Potomac River for 184.5 miles, from the mountains of western Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Mules plodded along its sandy towpath from 1850 to 1924, pulling barges full of people and goods back and forth over 11 stone aqueducts and through 74 lift locks. After World War II, Congress proposed paving the canal over and converting it into a scenic highway. But Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who hiked 15 or 20 miles along the canal every weekend, was outraged. At Douglas's invitation, the editors of the Washington Post, which supported the highway project, joined him and a crowd of conservationists to hike the length of the canal. The walk generated a wave of publicity and support for protecting the canal, which became part of the National Park System in 1971.

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