On Monday, December 23rd, a traffic accident claimed the life of Rick Leo of Trapper Creek. Rick was well-known as a writer and advocate for environmental stewardship in the Upper Valley. Rick lived in the Upper Susitna Valley for more than three decades. He was not a native Alaskan. Rick Leo was born in Chicago, went to college at Harvard, and lived in New York City before moving his family to Alaska in 1981. After arriving, he authored two books, wrote a column for the Anchorage Daily News for six years, and was an outspoken activist for environmental causes. Most recently, he was a major player in organizing the Susitna River Coalition, a group opposing the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. Fellow long-time Trapper Creek resident Rick Ernst says that Rick Leo was a voice for many who place high importance on the environment.
“I’ve always admired him being fairly articulate and being able to put down on paper these feelings that a lot of us have about the environment and what’s happening in the state.”
Rick Leo’s homestead is referred to as The Ridgeline. His two books and many of his columns detailed life in and near Trapper Creek, and the impact that living in the wilderness of Alaska had on him. Whitney Wolff, fellow member of the Susitna River Coalition and Chair of the Talkeetna Community Council, says that Rick’s activism was not just a show.
“A lot of his activism, I would say, was the result of a life truly lived on wild land. He was a purist. He mushed in and out of the Ridgeline, never had a snowmachine, did his firewood and all his firewood and house logging with his team, and really lived the life he wrote about….That really was the motivation behind a lot of–what turns out to look like activism is really his reverence for this Alaskan way of life.”
Words used to describe Rick Leo often center around the concepts of intelligence and passion. He was often highly informed, and never shy about sharing his opinions, including multiple interviews for KTNA. Paula Glenka, who served on the Trapper Creek Community Council with Rick Leo, says that he was a great resource due to his drive and willingness to act as a liaison between the Council and government groups. His willingness to stand up and be heard on a variety of local and environmental issues will be missed, says Rick Ernst.
“I’m going to miss him. I think we’re going to miss a good spokesman for those values.”
Rick Leo’s legacy of environmental stewardship did not pass with him. The Susitna River Coalition, which he helped to start, is expanding and just launched a new website. As Coalition Chair Mike Wood told the Anchorage Daily News, “He created a life beyond his own with this.” Rick Leo was 61 at the time of his passing.