The environmental movement lost a hero when adventurer, wilderness advocate and bona fide folksinger James “Walkin’ Jim” Stoltz died in September. After decades of trekking across the North America’s wild country, he has left a legacy of photographs and poems that document his backcountry journeys, along with original songs inspired from his experiences.
Stoltz offered dynamic performances and recordings over the course of 35 years including eight albums and one music video for children, called “Come Walk With Me.” He integrated his photography and poems into multi-media presentations to encourage audience members to move from their seats to the wild places across the continental divide – from Yosemite to the Yukon.
As an activist, poet, photographer, musician and friend, Stoltz reached out to people to share his love for the wilds and spread environmental awareness. The Environmental Protection Agency granted him its “Outstanding Achievement Award” for his advocacy for nature and wilderness across North America.
Stoltz empowered people to get involved in protecting the wild places they loved from corporate industry. He co-founded the Last, Best Place Wildlands Campaign, as well as Musicians United to Sustain the Environment (MUSE). He is well known for his advocacy for designated Wilderness Areas and bills designed to increase protections for wild places. On his web site, Stoltz wrote some heartfelt encouragement to viewers to take a stand for the wilderness:
“The folks in Congress do not know wilderness. They do not know the value of an unblemished skyline, or the sight of a grizzly bear galloping across a mountainside. They can’t grasp the importance of a spotted owl or for that matter a lowly prairie dog. They’ve never felt the power of the old growth forests or the silence of the Utah canyons. You need to tell them about these things. You must share your feelings about life and nature and how precious they are. Those who are making the decisions need to know.”
“He was the sweetest guy in the world,” said Dana Lyons, songwriter and activist and Stoltz’s good friend. “Walkin’ Jim just has a very gentle, beautiful soul. He worked tirelessly to protect the wilderness, and help inspire people to go out into the wilderness and work to protect it.”
One of Jim’s most famous songs, “Forever Wild,” has become common at campfires across the Pacific Northwest. The song became political history when legendary activist and FBI target Peg Millet sang it, rather than speak to a judge during a sentencing hearing for her involvement in a controversial environmental action in Arizona.
“While people know the song and have popularized it by learning and singing it, most people don’t know who wrote it,“ said Lyons, adding that this is what makes Stoltz’s music bona fide folk. “That’s the definition of a folksong,” he said.
Over the course of his life, Jim walked about 28,000 miles on long distance trips. While wading across rivers and walking across ridge tops, Jim composed the tunes that would be taken up by a generation of activsts. A growing collection of these can be found on www.walkingjim.com.
In an effort to share his work and its message about defending endangered ecosystems, Stoltz organized a 45-state outreach tour. During that time he performed in Humboldt County, a stop organized by internationally acclaimed Earth First! Activist Darryl Cherney.
“Jim was a great inspiration to me and I based my traveling slide show on his – even having a foot pedal like his designed me for so I could sing and show slides like Jim,” said Cherney. “What a magnificent contribution to our planet he has been.”