Celia Hunter
Wilderness Advocate

of the last half of the 20th Century

1919 - 2001

tribute by Connie Barlow

December 2013 (updated October 2015)

   Photo above and left: Celia Hunter at camp during a week-long "ladies only kayak trip" in Misty Fiords National Monument, Alaska, led by Connie Barlow in 1979 (a year prior to passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). In 1980 Celia co-founded the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which maintains a founders' biography page on Celia.

Photo right (and background left): Alison Horton (in ice-cold waters of Misty Fiords National Monument) was one of the three twenty-something women who accompanied Celia on that kayaking adventure. Ms. Horton later moved to Michigan and is in her third decade of serving the Great Lakes Region of the Sierra Club.

(Photos by Connie Barlow)


   Celia Hunter with three young kayaking companions from Juneau Alaska at the float plane dock in Juneau, with folding Klepper kayaks and camping gear, readying to depart for a week-long "ladies only kayak trip" to Bay of Pillars in the Tebenkof Bay Wilderness Area, Tongass National Forest (Aug 1982).

Left to right: Laurie Berg, Connie Barlow, Elizabeth (Betsey) Hastorf, Celia Hunter.

Celia was a mentor to many young women who ventured to Alaska in the 1970s, attracted to outdoor adventuring and wilderness activism. These young women were empowered by the new feminist worldview and the fresh new opportunities for young women to excel in traditionally male outdoor and career pursuits in the frontier spirit of Alaska.

Photos above and below (by Connie Barlow): Celia Hunter on a 5-day "ladies only kayak trip" (June 1981)
in Pybus and Gambier Bays, on the east side of Admiralty Island, SE Alaska. (Lower right: digging for clams.)
Two of theses photos appeared in an article on Celia in Adventure Journal, 2022..

   17 June 2001 (just 6 months before her death), Celia Hunter attended the Ecozoic wedding of Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd, held outdoors (with no advance planning) on the grounds in Lexington, Kentucky where the EarthSpirit Rising Conference in honor of Thomas Berry had just concluded. Celia had recently been attracted to Berry's deeply ecological worldview, after having read his 2000 book, The Great Work. Celia's attendance at the conference was a big reason why Connie suggested to Michael that they get married then and there — only 3 weeks after Dowd popped the question.

As Connie's "Alaskan mother", Celia (far left in photo) participated in the ritual element where, before Dowd and Barlow exchanged rings, Connie accepted a ring to wear as a symbol of her primary commitment to "marry Earth." (The silver ring had been worn by her mother, who died in 1998).

Celia's Ashes Symbolically Placed in Natural Areas

Upon hearing of Celia's death in December 2001, Connie requested an increment of ashes to apportion in tiny amounts within natural landscapes (in the Lower 48) that she knew were dear to Celia and in any wilderness area Connie might hike into in the years ahead.

Celia served on the board of The Wilderness Society and as its executive director for two years leading up to passage of The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. She was the first woman to head a national conservation or environmental organization.

Connie received a film canister of ashes. The rest of Celia's ashes were placed on a ridge near Camp Denali, Alaska — a rustic camp that Celia Hunter and Ginny Hill Wood established in 1952. Below is an ongoing list of all the places where Connie has placed a pinch of Celia's ashes. In most locations, a particular plant was selected for the placement, and it is therefore identified in this list. (All photos below are by Connie Barlow, except where otherwise noted.)

* * * * *

  • July 22, 2003: Orcas Island, Puget Sound (Camp Indralaya). Connie placed a pinch of Celia's ashes beneath a Douglas Fir Tree and cast a bit more directly into the waters of Puget Sound. Because Celia Hunter (born 1919) spent her childhood and learned to fly in the Puget Sound watershed, one can imagine that over her 82 years she probably set foot in every forest and visited every island in that conifer-rich bioregion.

  • August 21, 2003: Yellowstone National Park (Fishing Bridge). Yellowstone River waters.
    PHOTO RIGHT: Connie Barlow at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in August 2012. This was 42 years after she worked as a cabin maid at Fishing Bridge. (photograph by Michael Dowd)

    Connie met Celia Hunter in Alaska in 1974, having been captivated in 1970 with a desire to spend her life working in and advocating for national parks (and, later, wilderness areas too), owing to a summer job in Yellowstone National Park (far from Connie's birthplace in Detroit and college in East Lansing, Michigan). In the summer of 1971 she worked in Glacier National Park, and her final 3 summers of college she worked in (then) Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska — where the legend of the two women pioneers of Camp Denali was a tale heard by all the Wildlife Tour Guides employed by the park's primary concessionaire. Autumn of 1974, Connie departed the park and moved to Anchorage, where she volunteered for the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska, on whose board Celia Hunter served. It was there that she finally met Celia, and got a chance to spend Christmas 1974 with Celia and Ginny in their Fairbanks home.


  • August 26, 2003: Pigeon Monument, Wayalusing State Park, WI. Ashes placed under largest Oak Tree by the monument.

    This Monument to the Passenger Pigeon was dedicated in 1947. Aldo Leopold gave the commemorative talk, which later became a chapter in his celebrated book, Sand County Almanac.

    Photo left is Connie Barlow reading aloud that chapter, during her visit there in 2003, which was captured on video by Michael Dowd and later posted on youtube.

  • Note: In the 1980s, Connie visited the Seattle home of Aldo's youngest of five children, Estella Leopold (born 1927), as Celia was staying there, even though her dear friend was out of town. Connie finally had electronic contact with Prof. Estella Leopold (paleobotanist at the University of Washington) beginning in August 2008, as Connie wanted to inform Estella about the "assisted migration" of both an "Aldo Leopold" seedling tree and a "Celia Hunter" seedling tree (see 31 July 2008 entry below) You can sample Connie's and Estella's electronic correspondence.

  • May 26, 2004: Arapahoe National Forest, CO (El Dorado Trail). Douglas Fir Tree.

  • April 24, 2005: Gila Wilderness, NM (Little Creek Canyon). Ashes by Ponderosa Pine Tree.

    Ginny Hill Wood and Celia Hunter visited Connie Barlow (and Tyler Volk) at their trailer at Gila Hot Springs, ca 1995. Photos left were taken during a day hike down Big Bear Canyon trail to "Sycamore Glade" (photo of Celia, right) along the Middle Fork of the Gila River.

  • August 31, 2005: Murie Center, Moose WY: a pinch of ashes into (a) a grassy meadow, (b) a Spruce Tree, young Cottonwood sapling in open field, and (d) Snake River waters.

    Connie met Mardy Murie ca. 1985, when Ginny Hill Wood and Celia Hunter invited Connie to their cabin on San Juan Island (Puget Sound), and all three then visited Mardy in her cabin nearby.

  • May 18, 2006: Red Rock / Secret Mountain Wilderness (Boynton Canyon), near Sedona AZ.

    Douglas Fir Tree: Pinch of ashes by first big tree on right of trail, by orange rock wall on right (photo far left); also, beneath Douglas Fir on left side of canyon by "Painted Redstart" bush (photo near left).

  • June 7, 2006: Ghost Ranch, NM. Douglas Fir Tree

    Connie placed ashes upside of the topmost, biggest Douglas Fir along the trail up to the cave at the amphitheater of Box Canyon (photo far left); also by a big Douglas Fir Tree 1/3 of the way up the left side canyon off from Box Canyon, right above the waterfall pool (that Fir tree is visible in photo near left, with Michael Dowd on rock ledge below).

  •    GHOST RANCH (continued):

    PHOTO LEFT: June 7, 2006. In this photo overlooking the Box Canyon, the amphitheater is visible toward back (with its two tall Douglas Firs), and the other big Douglas Fir above the pool is visible foreground right.

    PHOTOS BELOW: June 29, 2016. Ten years later, the canyon has changed. The tallest Douglas Fir (the Celia Tree) remains, but the shorter upstream tree was destroyed by a massive flood in recent years.

  • June 29, 2006: Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado (Isabell Lake near Pawnee Pass). A pinch of ashes placed by an altitude-stunted Engelmann Spruce Tree within a snow patch to the left of the lake where trail ends.

    Connie neglected to carry a camera on this hike, but she was accompanied by Alaska friend Mary Ellen Cuthbertson (now, Garrett), who returned to her native home in Colorado in her older adulthood.

       LEFT: Connie Barlow and Mary Ellen feasting on clams collected in Pybus Bay, Admiralty Island, during a "ladies only kayak trip" with Celia Hunter, June 1981.

    RIGHT: Mary Ellen foreground with Celia Hunter (Alison Horton in yellow hat), on a week-long kayak trip into Alaska's Misty Fiords National Monument (August 1979).

  • July 31, 2008: private forest land near Waynesville NC (where Torreya Guardians were performing the first "assisted migration" of Torreya taxifolia), the most endangered conifer in the world (historically native range is Florida panhandle). Connie Barlow founded Torreya Guardians in 2004.

    PHOTO RIGHT shows in foreground (marked by orange flag) the Torreya taxifolia seedling tree named "Celia Hunter" as it looked 5 years after planting (April 2013, prior to spring leafing of the deciduous canopy).

    PHOTOS BELOW show Connie Barlow with the newly planted Celia tree, 31 July 2008; the glass container (gift of Bruce Rinker) that contains Celia's ashes (a few pinches of which had just been mixed into the soil around the little Torreya tree); and Torreya enjoying its first Appalachian winter (December 2008).



  • August 8, 2009: Seabeck Conference Center, Puget Sound. Douglas Fir Tree.

  • September 24, 2009: North Cascades National Park (Thunder Creek Watershed). A waist-high young Western White Pine Tree, in a pure mossy bank at trailside (left side of trail, heading up, about 10 minutes before the pass).

  • August 13, 2011: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, CO (Middle Fork of Cottonwood Creek access, west of Buena Vista).

    PHOTOS BELOW: A 2-foot-high young Engelmann Spruce Tree (to the left of Michael Dowd) above a spring, and also in the wet-meadow alpine flowers near that spring (accessed by trail from parking area at Continental Divide, which goes up the western watershed of Mt. Turner and Mt. Yale).


  • August 22, 2012: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota (Lake One).

    Ashes were placed under a perfectly symmetrical 8-foot-tall White Spruce Tree, growing in full sun on the south-facing side of an island, reached by canoe. That tree is a brilliant blue-green directly behind the center of the marsh grass meadow in the photo.

    Connie's guides and companions during this day-paddle into Minnesota's famous wilderness area were Sara Evans and Chuck Dayton. Sara is the owner of the "Waynesville, NC assisted migration" site, where Torreya Guardians planted 21 seedlings in 2008 (including the "Celia" tree). Sara's husband, Chuck Dayton, as legal counsel for the Sierra Club, played a crucial role in the 1970s in ensuring official Wilderness designation for this southernmost area of boreal forest in Minnesota. Sadly, a year later the Nature Conservancy realized that ecological restoration efforts that entailed planting White Spruce on private lands near the Boundary Waters no longer made sense — as climate change would soon send the boreal forest northward.

  • September 21, 2012: North Cascades National Park (along trail toward Cascade Pass). This park was established in 1968.

    Connie placed a pinch of Celia's ashes in the most spectacular bed of Blue Gentian flowers in full bloom, on the uphill side of the trail, not long after the dense forest gave way to subalpine meadows. (photograph by Michael Dowd)

    PHOTOS BELOW: Connie tapping out of the small glass container a few of Celia's ashes. Yes, that is the same black-and-white rayon, thrift-store summer dress that Connie was wearing in the 2008 Torreya tree-planting photo earlier on this page. Connie learned to prefer dresses for warm summer hikes during the Tebenkof Bay kayaking trip in 1981, pictured at the top of this page; Laurie Berg had requested we all bring a dress and don it for one of our evening campfire meals.


  • October 12, 2012: San Juan Island National Historical Park (American Camp).

    Celia's ashes were placed among the Grasses within a vast golden meadow sloping toward the waters of Puget Sound.

    Connie knew that San Juan Island was special for Celia Hunter, because around 1987 Connie biked from the ferry terminal there to a small cabin that Ginny and Celia owned on the west side of the island. That was Connie's only visit to the island until 2012, and during that visit Celia and Ginny took Connie with them to visit Mardy Murie in her own San Juan Island cabin. That was Connie's only meeting with a key wilderness advocate (b. 1902, d. 2003) of the generation that preceded Celia and Ginny's. (photograph by Michael Dowd)

    PHOTOS BELOW: Distant view, then close-up foreground, of where Connie placed a pinch of Celia Hunter's ashes. Photo right is Michael Dowd expressing gratitude to Puget Sound on a rock outcrop about a 10 minute walk up-island from where the ashes were placed.


       June 25, 2014: Connie Barlow (left) and Michael Dowd hiked back Vallecito Canyon (upstream of Vallecito Reservoir) near Durango, CO. About 100 yards up the trail from this Weminuche Wilderness sign, we took a side trail toward Vallecito Creek. Stopping above the steep slope down to the creek, Connie spotted a beautiful young White Fir (below right) that would be easy to find again because of the large rock outcrop alongside it.

    As usual, Connie carefully a placed a pinch of Celia's ashes into the soil next to the tree's slender trunk.

    Vallecito Creek ultimately flows into the San Juan River, which flows into the Colorado River. The Weminuche Wilderness is the largest designated wilderness area in Colorado; it was designated as wilderness in 1975, while Celia was on the Governing Council of The Wilderness Society, and one year before she became president of the council.


       August 2016: Connie revisits the Celia Tree (White Fir) along Vallecito Creek.

       July 8, 2014: Connie Barlow (left) and Michael Dowd hiked the Zapata Lakes trail beginning at 9,400 feet on the west slope of the Mt. Blanca massif (east of Alamosa, CO) and ending at 11,800 feet elevation in the alpine meadow and lake cirque that is ringed by the 14,000 foot peaks of this sacred mountain. The upper part of the trail is in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness of the Rio Grande National Forest. The Wilderness was designated in 1993.

    As the late afternoon monsoon storm began to churn, the couple headed back down the trail, where Connie spotted the first large Engelmann Spruce, right along the trail. "This is where Celia will go!" she proclaimed.

    Michael Dowd snapped Connie's picture (below left) as she prepared to drop a bit of Celia's ashes at the base of the tree. The photo below right views the tree from the opposite side on the trail. Notice the rockslide just showing at the top of the photo. We heard pikas post alarm calls on those rocks.

    11 hours after we began the hike, we dragged ourselves back to the BLM parking lot — drenched from hail and rain, but utterly grateful for our time in this remote alpine valley and high-altitude (still healthy) trees. Colorado Blue Columbine was in full bloom!


    SAD UPDATE October 2015 (photos below): On a camping trip to the last grove of Engelmann Spruce prior to Zapata Lake (11,400 feet elevation in the NW-facing cirque in the Mt Blanca Massif), Connie was saddened to discover that the Celia Tree had died — as had many of the other ancient spruce in the grove, owing to warm winters that failed to kill back the bark beetles. Note: In 2014 Connie gave a talk in Durango CO, now in video: "Rocky Mountain Trees in Climate Peril".




    The Hermosa Creek Wilderness was established by President Obama near the end of his presidency. September 14, 2016 Connie Barlow (above left) places Celia's ashes at the base of one of a triplet of giant Ponderosa Pines. Above right: Michael Dowd hugs the Celia pine. The trees are located at the edge of a grassy meadow, a few hundred yards uphill (and to the east) from where the Hermosa Creek Trail (east side of the creek) heads back down to the creek (beginning from the south-side trailhead).

    FUTURE POSTINGS: More photos of placement of Celia Hunter's ashes will surely follow in the years ahead, so long as Connie Barlow is alive and with legs still fit for walking.

    Why publish this site list and photos? Celia Hunter played a pivotal role in late 20th century wilderness designations in the USA and in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.) Those who knew her, and especially the younger generations who will follow in her footsteps, may find it meaningful to make a pilgrimage to a specific site or plant that contains a bit of her ashes. Given the impress of climate change, few of those who share Celia's values in this century that follows hers will be willing to inflate their carbon footprint by journeying to the ridge in Denali Park where the bulk of Celia's ashes were placed. Those inspired by her legacy can instead search out a location closer to home.

    NOTE: The author of this webpage is well aware that building shrines for loved ones on public lands is both illegal and disrespectful of the wilderness ethic. Nonetheless, leaving behind a pinch of ashes is surely less of an impact than the carefully buried defecations that wildlands backpackers necessarily leave behind.

    • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service posts "The Legacy and Lessons of Celia Hunter" on page 33 of their 2020 issue of Conservation History (in pdf).



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