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Martin Litton, Devoted Conservationist, Dies At 97


Now let's close the book on a memorable life. Not many people can look back at the end of their lives and say they saved a river. Martin Litton could. He died Sunday at age 97. He was a river guide and a conservationist, and he's given credit for preserving a 300-mile stretch of the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon. Here's Laurel Morales of our NPR member station KJZZ.

LAUREL MORALES: Martin Litton devoted his life to preserving wilderness. Whether it was keeping dams from the Colorado River, or a ski resort out of the southern Sierra or preserving the redwoods, he refused to compromise.


MARTIN LITTON: To compromise is to lose.

MORALES: He shared his philosophy in a 1994 interview with Boatman's Quarterly, recorded on the Colorado River.


LITTON: When you compromise nature, nature gets compromised. It's gone. It's hurt. It's injured. You gain nothing back ever.

MORALES: Litton was a force - a larger-than-life character with his penetrating glare, long white beard and booming voice. He used that to full effect, taking countless tourists down the river in wooden dories. In fact, his approach to the river was unorthodox. Other boatmen would scout the big rapids ahead of time for the best route. Not Litton. O'Connor Dale was one of his guides.

O'CONNOR DALE: People said he had an angel on his shoulder 'cause this is the way he ran the river. He was more interested in talking to the people than necessarily scouting as he entered a rapid.

MORALES: Longtime friend Brad Dimmock says you wouldn't want to cross him. He could be cantankerous and combative, but it was always for the cause. Dimmock laughs when he hears people say rest in peace.



DIMMOCK: He would hate to rest in peace. He is going to raise hell.

MORALES: Litton continued to boat the river well into his 90s. The river community will gather to share stories about Litton tonight in Flagstaff. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laurel Morales