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Celia Hunter was, first and foremost, a pilot who served in World War II as a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (the WASPs). After the war, she and a friend took jobs delivering planes from Seattle to Fairbanks, Alaska; although wanderlust took them both to Europe, they found themselves drawn back to Alaska, and in 1952, they opened Camp Denali. This was probably the birth of the modern concept of eco-tourism, though nobody can say for certain that it was. In any event, Celia Hunter worked closely with Murdy and Olas Murie and their attempts to gain recognition for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Surprisingly, the strongest support for protecting the region came from outside Alaska, and in response she co-founded the Alaska Conservation Society to encourage locals to take part in their state’s conservation efforts. She fought against the construction of a dam on the Yukon River and the proposed use of a nuclear warhead to blast a harbor out of the northwest Arctic coast; by 1976, Celia became president of the Wilderness Society and was the first woman to head a major environmental group. She was also involved in getting Congress to pass the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, and Jimmy Carter made a total of 56 million acres into national monuments.
She passed on December 1, 2001 while writing letters to Congress asking them to protect ANWR from oil drilling. What better legacy could she leave for us?