Portola Valley environmental champion Martin Litton dies | News | Almanac Online |


Portola Valley environmental champion Martin Litton dies


Martin Litton of Portola Valley, a World War II glider pilot and a writer for Sunset magazine, was a great friend to the natural world, working tirelessly to preserve its wonders.

Mr. Litton was instrumental, for example, in preventing construction of several dams in the American West, including in the Grand Canyon and at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, he told the Almanac for a 2012 story. He also helped foil plans that would have put transmission towers through Portola Valley to provide electricity to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, he said.

Someone else will now have to tell his stories. Mr. Litton died peacefully at his home on Bear Gulch Drive on Sunday, Nov. 30, according to his wife Esther. He was 97.

Mr. Litton came to the Peninsula in 1954 with Esther to take a job as travel editor for Sunset magazine in Menlo Park. He had acquired a reputation for nature writing with the Los Angeles Times and as an ardent defender of natural wonders. He also had a recommendation from David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, Mr. Litton said.

After residing in Menlo Park for a year and Los Altos for four years, the Littons in 1959 moved to a steep four-acre parcel in Portola Valley and built a house on the one spot suitable for construction, a house in which they stayed and raised four children, he said in the Almanac interview.

It was Mr. Litton's idea to bring wooden dories to the Grand Canyon, and he owned a river-running business there for decades. A recent documentary of Mr. Litton's life shows him making the case against a Grand Canyon dam by familiarizing reporters with the thrill of wild river rides in wooden dories, according to Mr. Brower.

The group "Save our Skyline," of which he was a member, went to court in 1965, and beat back a plan by the Atomic Energy Commission to run power lines to feed the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park. "They were going to come right through here," Mr. Litton told the Almanac, looking around Triangle Park at the corner of Alpine and Portola roads. "We beat them out of Portola Valley. They would have really been ruinous here."

Mr. Litton continued as a champion of the environment well into his 90s. Asked about climate change, he was pessimistic. "It's too late, too late," he said. "It's unbelievable that (the debate) has gone the way it has."

What should be done? "Stop multiplying right now," he said. A big part of the problem, he said, are religions that encourage large families and preach human subjugation of the Earth. "A lot of them aren't reachable because they don't care," he said. "They don't feel the problem in their individual lives."

"It's not a popular subject because it's unpleasant," he added. "People don't want to hear about it (but) who's kidding who. Global warming is here. The polar ice is breaking up." There used to be ice in his birdbath for three or four days every winter. No longer, he said.

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4 people like this
Posted by jim kay
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Martin Litton,

A fine man.

3 people like this
Posted by Alison Sheehey
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm

We mourn the loss of our President, Martin Litton. He was a man of honor and integrity who never stopped fighting the good fight. He was the active President of Sequoia ForestKeeper®, an organization that protects the Giant Sequoias and forest ecosystems in Sequoia National Forest. We will miss him but continue to fight for the natural world which Martin championed his whole life. You can read more about Martin on our website.
Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Georgia
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Thank you Martin Litton for everything you did, taught, cherished and inspired! Countless people are grateful to you and for you. My sympathies to Martin's beloved wife Esther and family.

2 people like this
Posted by Danna
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 1, 2014 at 5:43 pm

What a privilege it was to know Matin Litton and to have his assistance and voice when we were trying to daylight tiny Sausal creek.... When he saved the Colorado river,, but he was humble and lovely in his participation. I will forever miss seeing his glorious white head of hair and beard ensconced in that fabulous Citroen car that looked like a large insect! Esther we all stand with you.

Like this comment
Posted by JT Lemons
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 2, 2014 at 6:41 am

I had the honor of running the Grand Canyon with Martin and 15 other outfitters from around America and Canada. It's a trip I will never forget because Martin and the Grand Canyon are unforgettable and forever linked. His campfire stories about historic events at each camp were entertaining and valuable lessons. RIP, my old friend.

Like this comment
Posted by john castellano
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2014 at 9:10 am

I had the pleasure and honor of working and relaxing with Martin, my colleagues and friends on a 3 week expedition down the Colorado for a documentary. It was by far the best 3 weeks of my life, a trip I will always cherish especially going through Hance rapid with just Martin and myself in his dory. Thanks Martin for the stories, the insight and the generosity you showed me and the others. I will never forgot the bottle of "Sheep Dip" that you, Jeff and I shared. Rest in peace and thanks for all that you did to better this difficult world we live in.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Martin
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2014 at 9:50 am

Martin Litton did some wonderful environmental work with David Brower and Jeff Ingram, and for that we are grateful. That said, he did not bring the wooden dory to Grand Canyon. Moulton Fulmer from Muncie, Indiana, did that. Moulty was rowing a boat he built on that 1955 river trip. The boat was a decked McKenzie River dory, designed by Woodie Hindman. Moulty was rowing his Grand Canyon Dory, called the GEM, on Martin's second river trip through Grand Canyon, in 1956. This is well documented in the book I wrote, Big Water, Little Boats, Vishnu Temple Press, 2012. Sorry, but in the issue of dories in Grand Canyon, a Hoosier from Indiana got there before Martin. Yours, Tom

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 2, 2014 at 9:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Martin was a gentle person with great strength.

He was the rarity - an old and bold pilot .

He was and remains an inspiration to anyone who cares about natural beauty and wants to preserve that beauty.

Fly well Martin.

3 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Martin's passing makes this a sad day. He should be mourned by all of us that enjoy the outdoors.

Tom Martin - That was a very selfish comment on your part.

2 people like this
Posted by Mish
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2014 at 8:12 am

Martin Litton was so right about the environment, and far seeing about overpopulation. That is our real concern.

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