Lucille Vinyard was called the “Mother of Redwood National Park” by a former park superintendent. I’m sure that quote will be used often in the many memorials for this amazing woman as we mourn her passing in December.
Lucille was born on December 17, 1918 in Santa Cruz, California. I try to imagine what Santa Cruz and redwood forests must have been like in her childhood. I asked Lucille what sparked her interest in redwoods and she told me her mother used to take her on picnics near their home. Those trees were home. She said they were beautiful, and could not imagine cutting one down. This was her motivation to organize with the local chapter of the Sierra Club in the early 1960’s to stop the “mowing down” of the trees she loved. She saw the creation of a National Park as a solution.
Lucille defied all stereotypes. She was a Republican until Reagan slashed funding for conservation. She not only loved bird-watching, hiking, backpacking and rafting, but was also an avid golfer, fisherman and hunter. Though her wardrobe of choice was blue jeans and a work shirt, she loved recalling the exact pink dress she wore to a hearing about Redwood National Park so she would stand out amongst the dark-suited men.
It was always an honor to visit Lucille and her husband Bill (a botanist and professor) in their home perched above Moonstone Beach. Adventure, laughter and dedicated conservation work co-existed in their home.
The Northcoast Environmental Center owes much of its beginnings to Lucille’s dedication. She was present at the organizational meeting of the NEC on November 24, 1970 and was a founding board member representing the North Group of the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter.
Lucille was a fighter, who inspired me and other activists like me. Once after giving a talk promoting the creation of Redwood National Park, a logger from the audience threatened to shove her house into the ocean. In public hearings to expand Redwood National Park she was spat on and not-so-subtly threatened with a knife. She and I laughed at having to quickly hide by rolling into a logging road ditch on private timber land above Redwood Creek to avoid being caught. We were determined to give witness to the clearcutting devastation wrought by timber companies above Tall Trees Grove.
Without the likes of Lucille we surely would not have Redwood National Park and we might not have the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountain or Russian Wilderness areas. Lucille and I laughed recalling the bus trip we took over Oregon Pass on 299 in the early 1970’s to testify at an all night Forest Service hearing to protect the Trinity Alps. The bus slid and swerved on the snowy road but the busload of conservation activists encouraged the driver on. I will never forget that ride or the energy she shared at that hearing.
It would be wrong to think that saving our natural areas was “man’s work.” Lucille was right there on the frontline along with Kaye Chaffee, Susie Van Kirk and many other women. Lucille and her female comrades reminded us what women leaders can do.
Lucille’s battle was never complete. Longtime friends Joe Gillespie and Dave Van de Mark gathered around Lucille’s dining table to look at maps in 2014, discussing new efforts to add over 300,000 acres of wilderness protection in our region. She and Dave nodded heads as they pointed out trails and mountains that were outside wilderness boundaries and needed protection. This was the Lucille I had known for 45 years. This autumn, I met with Lucille so she could sign her letter to add acres of wilderness across the mountains she loved, but would also include portions of Redwood Creek Valley in Redwood National Park to wilderness, as she had always hoped for. Lucille wrote:
“As I look at the forests, mountains and rivers in this place I call home, I am proud of the work we did, but I also know it is not complete. I encourage you to fulfill our obligation to protect these lands for this and future generations. In this rapidly growing nation we need to assure our people of all ages have access to places of inspiration and recreation.”
Though Lucille received several awards for her conservation work, her real reward was hiking and rafting in places she helped save for future generations. It would be nice if the struggle was over and all was saved, but that is not the case. Fortunately Lucille and her conservation friends have inspired generations of activists to continue this important work. We need to be brave, like Lucille, and never give up.