Remembering Oz Hawksley, Co-Founder of American Whitewater
We are saddened to report the passing of Oz Hawksley last month at the age of 97. One of American Whitewater’s original co-founders and co-chair of our organization’s first Conservation Committee, Oz received a Ph.D. in Ornithology at Cornell University before going on to teach Biology and Zoology at the University of Central Missouri from 1948 to 1979. He was a lifetime advocate for wild rivers who understood the power of bringing together outdoor enthusiasts for effective advocacy. In addition to serving as one of the co-founders of American Whitewater, Oz founded Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club in 1956 and authored the guidebook Missouri Ozark Waterways. He introduced several generations of students to river running, backpacking, and spelunking through field trips and inspired many to work in environmental sciences. His articles in the American Whitewater journal throughout the 1950s and 1960s focused on wilderness conservation, prevention of new dams on rivers valued for outdoor recreation, wild and scenic river protection, and the establishment of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, all of which continue to remain as priorities for our organization today.
Oz developed his passion for rivers through the experiences he enjoyed and was at the forefront of early exploration of the Clearwater, Flathead, Main Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon, Yampa, and Green along with many rivers in the Ozarks. He was directly involved in early fights for conservation of these wild rivers as a new generation of explorers such as Oz who had served in World War II took to the water with heavy army surplus rafts that were available at the time and hand-built wooden frames.
Through early trips to the Clearwater drainage in Idaho in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Oz introduced paddlers to the North Fork Clearwater and Lochsa. In July 1960 he led the first trip down the Selway advertising it in the American Whitewater Journal earlier in the year as "one of the most beautiful wilderness areas, with a navigable river, left in the U.S.," a statement that holds true today thanks to the foresight of Oz and others to include this river as one of our nation's original Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Anyone who spent time with Oz soon learned the story of how Ham Rapid on the Selway got its name. On a trip down in 1961, in a moment of indecision, Malcolm Coulter ended up on a midstream boulder dumping the contents of his raft including the dinner ham that promptly sank to the bottom of the river. The group did without their ham on that trip. The following week the group returned for a second run, this time bringing along a mask and fins that Jack Reynolds used to successfully retrieve the ham. Whenever Oz would tell the story he would smile and proudly exclaim how the recovery of the lost ham resulted in extra portions for those on the trip. Thereafter the rapid was known as Lost Ham, shortened to Ham today.
We will miss Oz and all his river stories, but his memory lives on with the organization he helped found and the work we all continue today to protect and restore our nation’s rivers.
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