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Grassroots

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.

New Jersey | Arizona | Tennessee | Massachusetts | California | Bulletin

by Elisa Freeling

New Jersey
Gimme Shelter
When the New Jersey Red Cross got word that rescuers working round the clock at the site of the World Trade Center wreckage needed tents and sleeping bags, they turned to the local Sierra Club. With some 23,000 outdoorsy and civic-minded members, the New Jersey Chapter was the right call. Chapter coordinator Lori Herpen's e-mail in-box was soon inundated. "I couldn't believe the way members responded," says Herpen. "I was swamped with over nine hundred messages in a matter of days." And when the announcement received wider circulation on a national Sierra Club e-mail list, volunteers from as far as Texas and Oregon began sending their gear to New York.

"Everyone wanted to help in some way," says Herpen. Two New Jersey groups conducted a food drive; other members came into the chapter office to help Herpen answer the busy phones; still others volunteered to help staff a Red Cross resource center for victims' families. With the firefighters and other workers so dedicated they wouldn't leave the site, Herpen says, "I think it was the least we could do."

Arizona
Grand Slam
The Grand Canyon Chapter has saved its namesake national park from a 1,000-room hotel and a giant shopping center seven miles from the crowded south rim. The chapter sued the U.S. Forest Service, accusing the agency of giving the venture the green light without considering all of its impacts on the park, and in September a federal judge agreed. "This project would have brought even more people to an already overtaxed area," says Sharon Galbreath, forest-issues chair for the chapter, "and it would have had a major impact on the region's water."

The developer had drawn up a covenant promising that the complex would cart water in from the Colorado River, pumping groundwater only in emergencies, but it had loopholes "big enough to drive a water truck through," says Galbreath. "That groundwater provides a network of hundreds of tiny seeps and springs. They support the habitat and all the biological diversity that exists in the Grand Canyon."

Tennessee
Helms's High Jinks
Sometimes it's hard to persuade Congress to loosen its purse strings, but last year the Department of Transportation got $16 million it didn't request to build a road the National Park Service (NPS) doesn't want. The benefactors were North Carolina's Senator Jesse Helms (R) and Representative Charles Taylor (R), who slipped an innocuous-sounding "road in Swain County" into the 2000 federal budget. They failed to mention that the 21-mile byway would slice up the largest roadless forest in the East, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"This is the most serious threat to the park in thirty years," says Ray Payne of the Tennessee Chapter. First proposed 58 years ago, construction of the road was halted in the mid-'60s when crews hit anakeesta formation, rock and soil that, when exposed, releases sulfuric acid and heavy metals into streams, destroying aquatic life. The NPS has opposed the plan, both for its environmental impact and its $150 million price tag, but the Bush administration has yet to take a position.

Further mischief-making is in the works: Planning, design, and environmental-impact studies are currently under way, but Helms and Taylor want to exempt the road from environmental laws. Payne and other activists are trying to stop them and to halt further funding. Once successful, they hope to guard against future sneaky dealings by convincing Congress to designate about 90 percent of the Smokies' 520,000 acres as wilderness. To help protect the country's most-visited national park, call or write your congressional representatives.

Massachusetts
Right of Passage
The northern right whale was named by the 19th-century whalers who hunted it to near extinction because it was the "right whale" to pursue: a big, slow swimmer laden with blubber that caused it to float when killed. On the endangered species list for 30 years, the population continues to hover near 300. The whales roam from the coast of Florida to Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, but they feed and nurse their young off the Massachusetts shore, where they are sometimes hit by vessels or entangled in fishing lines. To protect the world's most endangered large whale, the Massachusetts Chapter has embarked on a public-education campaign to eliminate vessel strikes and promote whale-safe fishing gear. "We are privileged to have this amazing animal tucked in Cape Cod Bay," says chapter director Jay McCaffrey. "If people were aware of its plight, they would demand we do something to save it."

California
The Coast Is Clear
Sierra Club members made history in September when they took part in the World's Largest Garbage Collection, a distinction bestowed on California Coastal Cleanup Day by the Guinness Book of World Records. Statewide, more than 35,000 people participated, and not just for the fame: "I'm hooked on it because people are so positive, they work so hard to improve the community," says Loma Prieta Chapter volunteer Judy Kaufman, who coordinated the effort in San Mateo County. Beachcombers there collected 26,940 pounds of recyclables and 91,000 pounds of trash. In Sonoma County, Redwood Chapter member Christie Brown helped recruit 774 volunteers to clean up two dozen beaches. The festivities culminated in a barbecue, where judges awarded a prize for the most unusual litter: A bra, a prom photo, and a rusty kitchen sink were all beat by a hash pipe in the shape of an anatomically correct man.

Coordinated by the California Coastal Commission, the endeavor is part of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, in which 55 U.S. states and territories and some 90 countries participate annually. To help set a new record next year, visit www.oceanconservancy.org.


Spotlight Sierra Club Activism in your area by contacting Elisa Freeling at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail elisa.freeling@sierraclub.org; fax (415) 977-5794.

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