Two men with paddle
PASSING THE PADDLE Dr. Martin Griffin accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, awarded by Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill, right. (Photo by Mary Kelley)
By Don McEnhill

Note: Environmental pioneer and Westside Road winemaker Dr. Martin Griffin died this week at his home in Belvedere, Marin County. He was 103 years old. One of his proteges, Don McEnhill of Russian Riverkeeper, tells of the impact Griffin had on his life.

Marty was drawn to Sonoma by both an interest in owning a vineyard and by an interest to protect the Russian River. In 1975, Marty purchased Hop Kiln Ranch on Westside Road near Healdsburg, and became a resident of Sonoma County. He found a river that was being assaulted by gravel mining, which at that time ran Sonoma County and the Board of Supervisors.

Soon after moving to Healdsburg, he started forming alliances to advocate against mining “the water supply of the North Bay.” He founded the Westside Road Wineries Task Force and Russian River Task Force to build support for stopping gravel mining. Numerous lawsuits were filed against the mining companies and Sonoma County to stop mining. Sometimes the lawsuits succeeded, although it was always temporary as the County and mining firms found ways around the legal victories. Despite setbacks Marty kept up the pressure and was persistent in his campaigns to stop mining.

In 1993, when he was 73, he helped found Friends of the Russian River, a coalition of businesses, farmers and residents to focus on ending gravel mining. That organization became Russian Riverkeeper and in 2012 succeeded in ending gravel mining in the Russian River, fulfilling Marty’s goal.

As the leader of Russian Riverkeeper, I would not be here if it were not for Marty Griffin. In 1998, after living in Texas for nine years, I moved back to Healdsburg where I spent my summers and our family had a cabin. Once back, I was shocked that gravel mining still continued on the Russian River.

Late that summer I read in the Tribune about a general meeting of Friends of the Russian River, and attended. After the meeting Marty asked me who I was, likely thinking I was a gravel industry spy! I told him how I grew up on the river and couldn’t believe that mining was continuing, and asked what I could do. He smiled at me and said, “We can use help,” and suggested I attend their next meeting.

Now it’s 26 years later and I’m still working for what is now Russian Riverkeeper. I’m honored to carry on his work and continue to stand on his shoulders like so many others he inspired to work in the conservation field. Our region is so much better off for his conservation work, so whether you are enjoying time in West Marin or Sonoma, or paddling on the Russian River, we can all thank Marty Griffin for taking up the cause and protecting it all!

Don McEnhill is the executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, . 

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