By Sue Leskiw
The late Congressman John Lewis described his involvement in the Civil Rights movement as getting in “good trouble, necessary trouble.” That phrase aptly applies to actions taken by Lucille Vinyard and Dave van de Mark during the 1960s and ‘70s, when they advocated for first the creation of and then the expansion of Redwood National Park (RNP), which occurred in 1968 and 1978, respectively.
[In fall 2014, I met with Lucille and Dave in their homes, in conjunction with the 50-year celebration of the founding of North Group Sierra Club (NGSC) and passage of the federal Wilderness Act. I turned on my recorder and let them reminisce. Those unstructured interviews form the basis of these vignettes.]
In 1964, Lucille and Dave made an odd pair: a Republican country club member in her mid-40s and a 21-year-old wildlife/botany student who originally came to Humboldt to pull green chain for a timber company. That fall, Dave put together a slideshow for NGSC and so began their collaboration to save the redwoods. “People thought Dave was my son,” joked Lucille. At one state Board of Forestry meeting in Sacramento, a local forester saw Lucille and Dave in the hallway and said “Anytime I see you two together, there’ll be trouble.”
Some of their exploits were stealthy. Dave often went out in heavy rain to document erosion damage to the prospective RNP. When Edgar Wayburn – five-time Sierra Club president during the 1960s – wanted to get the true story beyond what could be seen from the air, Dave and Lucille took him and his wife to Bald Hills Road. When they heard a truck coming, they slid on the seats of their pants into a gully to avoid being caught trespassing. Norman “Ike” Livermore, Governor Reagan’s resource secretary, allowed them to sneak him in to see damage in the Emerald Mile. “I was never arrested for trespassing, but I was escorted out many times,” Dave stated.
Some of their exploits were scary. Dave would take photos from small aircraft. “We’d remove the door and fly very close to the treetops to get better pictures, breaking every safety rule.” Lucille recounted when, during consideration of RNP expansion, several U.S. Senators held a field hearing at the Eureka Veterans Hall. “Conservationists arrived early before loggers and their wives could fill the seats. Logging trucks circled the building throughout the hearing. Roughnecks were throwing paper and other things. Loggers’ wives stood on chairs and stomped their high heels. A man with a knife in his pocket stood so close to me that I could feel its outline. The hearing was raucous and getting ugly. Word came from the stage that conservationists waiting to speak should hand in their statements and leave one by one, via different doors.”
In 1967, Lucille and Dave traveled to Washington, DC to testify on behalf of the nonprofit group, Citizens for Redwood National Park. “If anybody helped save the redwoods, it was Dave and his camera,” opined Lucille. “He took photos of their beauty and their destruction alike. During a break in the hearing, poster-sized black-and-white photos were put up around the room. The subjects ranged from one trillium to an entire redwood.”
Henry Jackson, Senate Interior Committee chair, had asked timber companies to abstain from cutting trees within his 56,000-acre RNP proposal. “My photos proved that Louisiana-Pacific’s promise to Senator Jackson wasn’t true. The company even harvested on New Year’s Day. Jackson was upset, went on a rampage, and the timber companies pulled out after being caught red-handed in 1967,” Dave explained.
Local U.S. Congressman Don Clausen, working with timber companies, had proposed an inadequately sized park. He called Lucille out of a House Interior Committee meeting and told her that the hearing wasn’t going the way he wanted. Lucille replied that she didn’t travel 3,000 miles to support “your little string of beads” (a narrow strip along Highway 101).
In the five years prior to RNP expansion, “we could only watch and cry. Redwood Creek blocks were being clear cut. On a highlight trip, we counted the rings of a cut tree and found it was 1,002 years old and 270 feet tall. Visitors with cameras watched as two men with a cross-cut saw went to work. Sawdust looked like blood streaming out. When the tree fell, there wasn’t a dry eye. It hurt. It was the saddest thing I ever experienced and the memory still affects me,” said Lucille, who has been described as both “The Mother of Redwood National Park” and “That Awful Woman from Trinidad.”