Environmentalists honor wilderness warrior women | AspenTimes.com

Environmentalists honor wilderness warrior women

Scott Condon

Dottie Fox, Joy Caudill and Connie Harvey have been called the Maroon Belles, the mothers of Aspen’s wilderness areas and countless unprintable names. Sunday night they were called heroes.Hundreds of people that form the core of the local environmental movement turned out to pay tribute to the three women who have done so much to secure protection for hundreds of thousands of backcountry acres around the Roaring Fork Valley.In the 1960s, the women teamed to make sure some of the most spectacular lands around Aspen got included in the initial Wilderness Bill, which prohibited development and extraction of natural resources. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Bill.In the 1970s, they rallied Pitkin County residents against a proposal that would have crammed 1,300 condominiums into the Hunter Creek Valley, Aspen’s most beloved playground.And in the 1980s, they made sure lands that got overlooked during the original designation of wilderness weren’t forgotten again.They also founded Wilderness Workshop, Aspen’s most powerful environmental organization since 1967.John McBride, the master of ceremonies at the tribute at the Wheeler Opera House on Sunday, said the three women influenced or were directly responsible for the wilderness designation of 500,000 acres in and around the Roaring Fork Valley. But their real legacy, he said, is setting an example for people across the country about how a grassroots movement can make a difference.The contributions of the three women were captured in a film called “Wild By Nature.” Chelsea Congdon and James Brundige of First Light Films in Old Snowmass mixed stunning images of the mountains around Aspen with video of Fox, Caudill and Harvey explaining how their activism got rolling and information that put the importance of wilderness protection into perspective.In the film, Fox described falling asleep under the stars while backpacking in the dazzling wildflowers of Hasley Basin, west of the Maroon Bells. She awoke in the morning with a deer leaning over her “ready to like my face.” An environmental activist was born.”How could you not feel passionate if you had that experience?” Fox said.The three women received special recognition from Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, the national powerhouse of environmental groups. And the hundreds of attendees let their wallets talk by contributing $62,000 to Wilderness Workshop.But filmmaker Congdon perhaps best summed up what the tribute was all about.”This is a story of what people can do when they fall in love with a place and stand up for it,” she said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com