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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Ron Strickland, history author and trail blazer

(Ron Strickland)
Ron Strickland

      Every time that I ride Amtrak up and down the West Coast, I finish reading another book that resides on the top of my must-read list. On my 2009 trip, I read about the transcendentalists and Louisa May Alcott. Several years ago I read Ron Strickland's 1984 collection of memoirs and oral histories, River Pigs and Cayuses. As we who read dozens of books only occasionally say: "It was a ripping good yarn."
      Strickland may be better known to you hikers and outdoors folks as the man who blazed the Pacific Northwest Trail and persevered until President Obama signed its official authorization. A great hiking website,, assayed Strickland's ore from the outdoors point of view:

      There was a time when Ron Strickland almost gave up on the Pacific Northwest Trail. In 1976 Congress had passed a bill to examine the feasibility of adding a new 1,200-mile trail to the national trails system. The study took place over the following years, but in 1981, the report recommended against the project, which already stretched a considerable length of the way from the Rocky Mountains to the Olympic coast. The reasons, he recalls, were mostly political.
      "At that point I had to decide whether or not to continue," says Strickland. "The goal was so big and I was trying to do this by myself with only a few friends to help. Basically, we were winging it." They had also made one fundamental mistake. Strickland, a graduate student and wilderness lobbyist at Georgetown University who knew how to work the political system, had gone straight to the top with only the appearance of grass-roots support. "In retrospect, I should have started from the ground up," Strickland says. . . .
      Until then, he remains the quintessential nomad, splitting his time between Vermont and Seattle and his energy among many ongoing book projects. He has already published seven, and is working on five more, including a memoir of the trail, a novel about Seattle, and a new version of the PNT guidebook to be published in 2001. Strickland also plans to hike the trail again this summer, and is looking for a hiking partner.

      For River Pigs, Strickland followed a simple but highly effective format. He was interviewing and visiting no-nonsense folk so he sailed straight ahead: a short introduction and background of each subject, 31 altogether, their memories in their own words, and a photo. Each one, men and women, had a unique story to tell about how they lived with a pioneer's spirit and respect for his surroundings. We selected the memoirs of Mark Gilkey, Ralph Parker, Howard Miller and Glee Davis to share with you and encourage you to seek out Strickland's equally fascinating books; you can find links to each story below.

Transplanted eastener
      Ronald G. Strickland was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1943. He graduated from Georgetown University with three degrees, including a doctorate that would point him to both his vocation and his avocation; his dissertation about the National Wilderness Preservation System and the games that bureaucrats there play.
      After lobbying in Washington, D.C. for a federal report about the desirability and feasibility of creating a new trail from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean, he incorporated the Pacific Northwest Trail Association in 1977 and served as executive director until 1997. In 1981, his fortunes turned downward in D.C., but he persevered and in 1984 and 2001 he published several books including the one we review here, along with a guidebook for many of his favorite trails.
      Besides Strickland's obvious genuine interest in the subjects and his success in drawing amusing anecdotes out of them, we were most impressed with his glossary of terms that survive in the local vernacular and that comes in very handy while reading. For example, a River Pig is "a lumberjack who controls the logs as they float downriver to the sawmill." We strongly encourage you to look for River Pigs; I see it at stores several times a year and on the Internet. You can also order some of his books at his website. His books that you can order there (with autograph) include:

      Tell him we sent you.


Obama signs
      [Obama creates Pacific Northwest Trail, March 2009] [Return]

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Story posted on June 20, 2009
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This article originally appeared in Issue 49 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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