by Jerry Neff
The year was 1981. Ronald Reagan had just taken over the Oval Office. James Watt was the Secretary of the Interior and environmentalists were quite unhappy. Federal lands were being abused from all directions. The mining industry was blowing the tops off mountains ruining watersheds and spoiling drinking water. Ranchers were overgrazing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and doing it at bargain rates. Lumber companies were clear cutting our national forests and leaving behind thousands of acres of stumps and brush. Air quality had become unbearable in some cities despite the fact that unleaded gasoline had been in use for ten years. Environmentalists had a lot of reasons to be unhappy.
And so one day I found a letter in my mail box inviting me to join the Sierra Club. I had heard of this bunch from California who were really into mountaineering and were big time environmentalists. The timing was right and since I was beginning to get interested in mountaineering too, I signed up. In the mid-70s the Iowa Chapter had formed, but the Quad Cities did not have a local Sierra Club group. There had been a Group in Illinois but they had disbanded. Since there were no meetings or events in our area I was one of the many members we call inactive. I was inactive for about 3 years.
Maybe it was because I was inactive that I was at home that day when a knock on the door interrupted my inactivity. It was my young neighbor from about a block away, Mark Henderson, telling me that the Sierra Club was having an organizational meeting to start a club in the Quad Cities. The next week we met in the Davenport Library and the Eagle View Group was born.
Mark Henderson, just out of college was our President. I would like to mention some of the members who took the reins of our group, during those early days, but my memory is pretty bad and I would just leave out someone. I only remember one other person who was at that first meeting, although there were several others, that one person was Ruth Ofner. She has been gone for many years now and was a wonderful person and really helped us get our group going. In fact, Ruth was so active she obtained a list from the Iowa DNR of the 50 worst polluters in the state. Alcoa topped the list, not because the name started with “A” but because they were the worst polluters. Ruth arranged for a visit with Alcoa’s PR person, and she brought along her list. That visit was the beginning of a new way of management of Alcoa’s Davenport Works. Every year since then, Alcoa has invited environmentalists to an environmental progress meeting to discuss their latest changes and improvements at the plant. It was a big change for Alcoa and a big improvement for the community’s clean air and water.
Through all those years from the mid-80s to the present, Sierra Club and Eagle View Group have become household words in the Quad Cities. For about 25 years we met monthly, except for June, July, and August, at the library in Bettendorf, but in recent years we moved to the library in Moline. About 15 years ago the Eagle View Group got permission from our National Office in San Francisco to combine the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities area into one group. The Eagle View Group is one of only a few groups in the country that join two states.
Moving our meeting to Illinois increased our meeting attendance and our Executive Committee, has become more active. We just completed our 11th annual Environmental Film Fest; each year we have a Tree Hugger Trivia fundraiser which has become quite successful; we do a River Mile Cleanup once a year along the Butterworth Parkway; and we have outings four times a year within a one hundred mile radius. And I don’t want to forget our Water Sentinels who do water sampling of Illinois streams in cooperation with Augustana College.
So there is your brief history of the Eagle View Group as I remember it. To keep up to date on our Group’s activities, visit sierraclub.org/illinois/eagle-view and come and see us. Also, the next time you are passing through Devils Glen Park in Bettendorf, Iowa on the bike trail along Duck Creek, look for a bench about 20 feet up from the path and you will see a plate in remembrance of Ruth Ofner from the Eagle View Group Sierra Club. Sit there for a while and take in your surroundings, thank Ruth and thank the Sierra Club.