May 25, 1962: An Invitation from Wallace Stegner to “A Picnic with a Purpose”

On May 25, 1962, our founding Board President Wallace Stegner sent an invitation to the community to join him on Memorial Day for “A Picnic with a Purpose.” It was the first meeting of what was then called the Committee for Green Foothills. What a different time – an invitation sent just five days before the event on May 30! I am sharing clippings of his invitation letter in this blog.

Our 27 founders had just recently dusted themselves off and regrouped after losing a campaign to save Palo Alto’s foothills from what would become the Stanford Industrial Park. They were concerned that all of the Peninsula foothills would disappear if a more concerted effort was not made to save them. So they decided to start a nonprofit dedicated to preserving local nature.

This was post-World War II, a time when the widely accepted plan was to transform the entire Bay Area into a mega metropolis through filling in much of the Bay and paving over most grasslands, forests, hillsides, and coastal areas.

We know so much more now than we did in 1962 and have more science to back up why we must protect nature. Even though this was many years before alarm bells were going off about the climate crisis, our founders knew that protecting nature provided a host of benefits beyond the beauty of the places that were protected:

The record of how many people attended that day has been lost, but I imagine those who attended had a wonderful day and all pitched in to help form our new nonprofit. Soon after the gathering, Committee for Green Foothills expanded its focus, working to protect open space, natural resources, and farmland in all of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Today we benefit not only from the work that they did but from the standard our founders set. Land use advocacy in our region was relatively new but they rose to the many challenges they faced. And with over 900 land use advocacy issues tackled since our founding, more than 200,000 acres of open space have been permanently preserved as a result of our work.

Thank you to our founding members, who had the foresight to host this “picnic with a purpose” for the community as they forged a new path at a time when most gave little thought to preserving local open space: Myron Alexander, Dora Brown, R.E. Cameron, Dorothy Comstock, Kirke Comstock, George Cowie, James Cutter, Dave Davison, Laurence Dawson, Ruth Dawson, Eleanor Fowle, Jack Fowle, Betty Gerard, Gary Gerard, George Hogle, Lois Crozier-Hogle, Tom Horn, Martin Litton, Sy Mantel, Mary Moffat, George Pfeiffer, Karl Spangenberg, Ruth Spangenberg, Kathryn Stedman, Morgan Stedman, Wallace Stegner, and Michael Wills.

I love Stegner’s sign-off. In this invitation from 60 years ago, somehow folks were able to find the venue without the mapping tool on their phone, thanks to his clear directions!

While you and I were likely born too late to attend our founder’s picnic, you are also invited to a Green Foothills celebration! Please join us at Nature’s Inspiration on September 25, 2022 as we celebrate our 60th anniversary.

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