Remembering Don Briggs

Written by Patrick Koepele

A movement to protect a river, like any movement, doesn’t materialize from the ether. Atoms don’t self-assemble to form words on the paper of a piece of legislation. Elected officials don’t think up these ideas themselves. It takes regular people working together towards in common cause. And usually, it takes many, many people. The Tuolumne’s protection as a Wild & Scenic River is no different. Many people toiled for many years to move the legislation through Congress and finally to President Reagan’s desk in 1984. Among the many inspiring activists from the Tuolumne Wild & Scenic Campaign was Don Briggs who passed away on September 14th. Don was an artist and photographer who was passionate about river protection and gave his time, skills, and efforts to fighting to protect the Tuolumne, Stanislaus, and other rivers.

Don wielded his photographic skills like a weapon. He had a keen eye for framing a landscape photograph and was able to capture the form and beauty of flowing water. I’ve been told many would sit next to him in a raft and try to mimic what he was doing and looking at it, but they never really could duplicate it. These photographs brought the beauty of the river to the public and to decision-makers, even making opponents of wild and scenic protection pause to absorb what had been captured in on film. Don was also a prankster who know how to draw attention to the issue with humor. Notably, Don talked to the famous actor Richard Chamberlain to take a trip down the river. Richard Chamberlain was a much sought after interview subject at the time, and after his Tuolumne trip, he would only agree to do interviews if he could talk about his beloved Tuolumne River. This brought high-level attention to the outstanding and remarkable values of the Tuolumne to the general public and further increased broad grassroots pressure for the protection of the river.

Don’s story is an inspiring one for all of us. Don combined his passion with his talents and dedicated his time to ensure the protection of the river. Though we may not all have the same talents as Don did, we all have a voice that we can bring to a conversation about our environment. This is perhaps more important now than ever. Without people taking the time to speak up for a river, an endangered animal, or a favorite landscape, we will not have any additional environmental victories. In fact, there is a very real danger that we will backslide and environmental protections will be removed. I have heard many of you speak in support of a healthy and vibrant river teeming with fish and wildlife and that continues to provide many benefits for generations to come. We have many important decisions that will be made in the coming months and years that will either advance that vision or set it back. At the Tuolumne River Trust, we will work to help you channel your voice to the right decision-maker or elected official. And we take inspiration from Don in doing so.


The images above are subject to copyright and are property of the Tuolumne River Trust.
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