Richard J. Brooks

1923 – 2001

Served 1969-1997 (28 years) on the NCCC Board

Brooks & McConnell

Dick Brooks (r) and Grant McConnell (l) at Lake Chelan overlook. — Harvey Manning photo

In 1938, the year Olympic National Park was established, Dick was a Boy Scout exploring the range on multi-day hikes from Camp Parsons. In 1947, when a bill was in Congress to shrink the park to log ancient forests, he was a graduate student at the University of Washington. Research had to wait while he hitched a ride to hearings at Lake Crescent. In later years he delighted in recalling how a lumberman at the podium would bluster out “facts,” how scribbled notes would pass forward from Dick’s seat in the audience to Congressman Henry M. Jackson, and the lumberman would be mystified (to the hilarity of the audience) that a member of Congress somehow knew more than a logger. That was the start of Dick’s 54-year mission to protect the wilderness and the national parks.

In 1948, hiking up the Whitchuck River to a climb of Glacier Peak, companions listened to Dick’s blistering of the way the trail distance had been cut by half in the few years since his first hike here as a Scout. In the 1950s, as a member of the recently formed Conservation Committee of The Mountaineers, he joined in a look-see field trip, heard a ranger explain the plan to put the logging road through to Kennedy Hot Springs and build a car campground there. His companion committee members were distressed by his explosion of impolite rage, nurturing as they were hopes that the late Bob Marshall might rise from his grave and redeem the soul of the Forest Service. Many years later, Dick’s strong voice was retroactively honored by his unofficial title, “Mr. Glacier Peak.”

In the 1960s the Elderly Birdwatchers Hiking and Griping Society (Dick, Harvey Manning, Ted Beck, and Pat Goldsworthy) hiked hundreds of miles on the Society’s annual Summer Outings. Their route in 1968 was a loop from the Ross Reservoir Beaver Pass, off the trail to the Northern Pickets, then back to the reservoir via the Big Beaver. Though the valley’s forests had been saved from logging by the truckblocking Skagit Canyon and Ross Dam, the trail was not famous; in fact was unpopular, passing close by the Pickets but failing to give good views of those peaks. The valley was proposed for the North Cascades National Park simply because of where it was, not what it was. The North Cascades Conservation Council and allies raised no objection to satisfying the request by Seattle City Light that it be placed instead in a RossLake National Recreation Area.

The Birdwatchers chose this exit for the loop solely because it was convenient and would serve to increase their geographical knowledge by a minor bit. The year was 1968. Days in the high wilds, the tundra and moraine and ice, few of the scattering of subalpine conifers as tall as them, gave the swift descent the sense of diving from the big sky into a deep green ocean of fir and hemlock. Then came the cedars . . .

Big Four

Patrick Goldsworthy, Dave Fluharty, Richard Brooks and Dave Brower, ca. 1985

The final day they assembled at the reservoir to await pick-up by Krazy Kat in his hydroplane. No word needed be said, they were a wide smile of group epiphany. The park bill had a serendipity, the most awesome groves of gigantic western cedar any of them had seen or heard about, certain to become a glory of the park complex. To be sure, Seattle City Light had musty old plans to flood the valley. But the paper on which the plans were drawn was yellowing and cracking, and anyway, acting on such plans would take years, it was a threat that could be filed away, to be addressed later. Or so they thought.

Nearing the end of the hydroplane ride, workmen were seen at Ross Dam. What were they up to? Said Krazy Kat, “Getting ready to raise the dam.” Not years! They were acting now. By fortuity, the superintendent of City Light, John Nelson, was a shirt-tale relative of Dick’s. So, not to worry. “John is a good guy. Once I talk to him, he’ll do the right thing.”

But if John didn’t know the national ecological significance of the Big Beaver, he knew well the national historical stature of J.D. Ross. Ross Dam was his followers’ monument to The Chief, a sainted champion of public power in the 1920s-30s. Raising the dam, enlarging the reservoir into the Big Beaver – as well as along the Skagit River into Canada – was owed to his memory. Dick suggested that the economics be recalculated, using 1960s data to replace that of J.D.’s 1930s. Dick was astounded to hear that John’s people hadn’t done so, didn’t have in hand water flow, kilowatts generated, value of these, cost of construction. No problem, John assured Dick. In the statement that has entered history as epitomizing the hubris of Engineer America, he declared, “YOU CAN FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF ON THE BACK OF AN ENVELOPE!”

Dick went at it. On the backs of a good many more than one envelope. For years and years the NCCC was the leader in the United States, its co-leader in British Columbia being ROSS, “Run Out Skagit Spoilers.” The Birdwatcher calculations turned the tide in the High Ross debates. To quote Dave Fluharty, a major leader in the years and years of debate: “Dick showed that it was cheaper for the City of Seattle to purchase power from British Columbia than it was to build High Ross. This came after all of the protests that NCCC generated on both sides of the border and the expert work of Tom Brucker and Rick Aramburu in taking the case to the Supreme Court. An international treaty gave Seattle a 100-year contract for low-cost Canadian electricity. I’ll bet even Dick’s adversaries in the City Light management are blessing his prescience nowadays! . . . Wherever you are, Dick, I hope the wildernesses are big and that there are plenty of environmental problems to harness your mind.”

-From The Wild Cascades, Spring 2001