Farewell to a River Champion

By: Ken Neubecker, Northwest Regional Vice President The rivers of Colorado lost a good friend a couple weeks ago.  Steve Glazer wasn’t a fisherman, in fact he wasn’t much of an athlete in any sense.  But he was passionate about the rivers and streams, and the water of Colorado.  He was, as I am, self-taught in the issues surrounding the water and rivers of Colorado.  As with many of us his passion and knowledge grew out of concern for his home streams; Coal Creek, the Slate River and the upper Gunnison.

Crested Butte was his home for 47 years.  He brought cable TV and a bank to town.  He saved the Princess Theater from destruction, re-opening it as a central part of that small community in the ‘70’s, bringing the magic of cinema to what was then a pretty isolated mountain town.  When a massive molybdenum mine was proposed on Mt. Emmons, the “Red Lady”, above town Steve was one of the first to close ranks in opposition.  He did the same when a massive new reservoir and trans-mountain diversion was proposed for the headwaters of the Taylor River at Union Park.

Steve first became involved with rivers through a concern for what was happening to water quality.  The mining heritage of Colorado may be a point of historical pride, but the damaged and degraded rivers are the lasting legacy.  Steve wasn’t a trained scientist, lawyer or otherwise educated as an environmental “professional”.  He learned what he needed to know through  patience, listening, reading and asking lots of questions.  He paid attention.  He went to meetings of the Water Quality Control Commission for years before he felt well enough versed in the subject to speak out.  But when he did speak it always caught people’s attention.  Steve was no shrinking violet, never afraid to speak his mind or ask probing questions. If he disagreed with Commissioners, staff, politicians or other “experts” he would say so, publicly.  Steve could be counted on to say what needed to be said.

Yet he was always respectful of everyone, even those with whom he disagreed the most.  He was always quick with a smile, a handshake and gratitude for being able to do and say what he did.

In the end this “hippie” from back East who rolled into Crested Butte back in 1969 and  became one of the most highly regarded and well liked water “experts” in Colorado. State officials, ranchers, business leaders and his colleagues all came to admire and respect his thoughtful understanding of the issues.  And that wasn’t just in Colorado.  For many years he was the Sierra Club’s main man for the Colorado River, from top to bottom.  And he could be counted on to be a contrarian here as well.  Being from the rural West Slope of Colorado he had a better understanding of how rivers and water is used, as a vital part of the west, than many of his more urban contemporaries.

One of the roles and jobs for which he was proudest was on the Board of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, not exactly an “environmental” organization.  But he succeeded in bringing an environmental voice into the conversation of traditional water use at a time when tensions were high and trust levels low.  His grace, knowledge, respect and understanding helped bridge that divide.  That is a legacy from Steve that we all benefit from.

Steve was a good friend, and I miss him greatly.  Rarely have I worked with someone with the skill, knowledge and integrity he had.  Steve was a friend of Colorado’s rivers and streams and while most people in Trout Unlimited never knew him or his work, we are all deeply in his debt.