Celebrating Oregon's History of Conservation: the 1960s

Nature Stories

Hear Norb Leupold, an Oregon trustee in the 1960s, on our early years.

Norb Leupold, an Oregon trustee in the 1960s, grew up hiking and camping along the Sandy River. Hear what he has to say about the Conservancy's early years.

The Nature Conservancy was founded in 1951 by members of the Ecological Society of America. This group of scientists wanted to go beyond studying the natural world. They were determined to take action and save it.

From the beginning, our mission has been to preserve the diversity of life on Earth by protecting lands and waters. The DNA given to the Conservancy by our founders is still with us today. We’re grounded in science and action-oriented.

Our start in Oregon was humble. On February 25th, 1961, 33 volunteers met at Lewis and Clark College and voted to become the Oregon Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The group also decided to conduct an inventory of Oregon’s important natural areas — something never before done. The treasurer reported $74.50 available to support that effort.

The early years were full of amazing stories of personal commitment and sacrifice.

To create our first preserve in 1963, Camassia Natural Area in West Linn, volunteers scraped together $9,000 to acquire 22.5 acres. To meet the deadline, one board member took out a personal bank loan, putting up his own bonds as collateral.

Our board chair at the time, Dr. Catherine Evenson, tapped her personal savings. It took two years to raise the funds to pay back the loans. It was a struggle, but they got it done. And that gave them courage to take on their next challenge — Cascade Head.

This spectacular coastal headland was part of a cattle ranch that was going to be developed for housing. It was discovered by members of the Mazamas Club, including two of our star volunteers, Ray and Phyllis Davis.

Together with local leaders and the fledgling Nature Conservancy, they raised $50,000 to purchase 270 acres here in 1966. They didn’t stop there.

It was on to the next challenge. In the late 1960s, two brothers, Portland physicians, Arch and Sam Diack, began talking to us about the Sandy River. That led to rafting trips, hikes, biological surveys and research projects by Reed College students. But it wasn’t all work. Outdoor sausage-making parties back at the Diack place were a common occurrence, too.

When the family gave the Conservancy a 156-acre riverfront gem in 1970, they triggered a chain of events. Additional acquisitions. Partnerships. More scientific discoveries. And, eventually, legislation that protects an entire 40-mile corridor of the Sandy as a wild and scenic river.
Success on the Sandy River gave us our first lessons about what it takes to work with partners across a landscape of multiple ownerships.

One of our board members who served back in the 1960s and has been a loyal member ever since is Norbert Leupold Jr., whose father would take him hiking and camping as a kid along the Sandy River. 

We recently sat down with Norb. Let’s listen to what he had to say.

If the 1960s was a time when individual leaders took great risks and showed us what could be done with persistence and determination, the next decade was time to deliver.

Next: the 1970s >>

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