A Love of Public Land


I grew up hunting and fishing in a twenty foot Grumman canoe. At age five my Dad took me on my first float trips down the Current and Eleven Point River in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri. Since then both rivers have been designated national wild and scenic rivers. Now, 70 years later, I can still remember the joy I felt floating down those rivers.

John Lockwood paddles around Pillar Point, WA in a Murrelet 4PD. For more information on public access and paddling Washington state, visit: www.wwta.org

At age 18 I dropped out of college and took off to the Rocky Mountains. I eventually made my way to the Northwest, working odd jobs as I went: a wheat farm in Eastern Washington, a drilling barge in the Snake River Canyon, and a horse pack outfit in the Wallowa Mountains of NE Oregon. I spent my free time hiking and roaming the surrounding public BLM and National Forest Lands… and so it went until 1967.

In 1967 I broke my hip and spent 7.5 years on crutches. I had lost my ability to get into mountain wilderness. I was devastated and reluctantly went back to school where I was confined to a desk. By the second summer, I was desperate to get back outdoors. I took up kayaking and learned to eskimo roll in the Harvard pool. I then took off on two crutches and spent 2.5 months solo paddling 900 miles down the Yukon River from Whitehorse YT to Circle Alaska. I lived on dried goods, Northern Pike, and Snowshoe Hare I caught on a spinning rod and a spool of snare wire. Kayaking allowed me to reconnect to a part of my life that I couldn’t live without. I spent 38 of the next 48 summers on extended paddling trips, kayak camping for longer than a month on each trip.

John’s accident left him on crutches for 7.5 years, which eventually led him to kayaking.

John Lockwood in 1970 paddling solo (with crutches) down the Yukon River.


When my daughter Freya was young I spent as much time with her as I could roaming around and exploring the natural world. She started paddling sitting in my lap at 18 months old. Since then our customers have watched her grow up in our catalogs. We published pictures of her paddling her first kayak at age 5 on Bownlee Reservoir, a lake surrounded by public BLM land on the Oregon/Idaho border. We later published pictures of her on a wild and scenic stretch of the Missouri River in central Montana (part of the Missouri River Breaks National Monument), The Red Deer River in Alberta , the Green River in Utah, Bowron Lakes in British Columbia, and Great Slave Lake (up near the Arctic Circle). For thirty-one years every Pygmy catalog has contained pictures of Pygmy Boats being used, and every one of those photos was taken on public lands. In fact, when I reflect back on all the extended multi-week kayak camping trips I’ve taken over the course of the last 48 years, 100% of it has been on public, navigable waterways, oceans and lakes and 100% of the camping was on public lands. None of these trips would have been possible without public lands.

A young Freya filled with joy in the Osprey Triple on the Green River, UT.


John Lockwood’s favorite photo of all time. He and Freya (circa 25 years ago) in a loaded Wineglass Wherry.

I tell you all of this to make a point. For me the fight for the preservation of Public Lands is not political but a deeply felt personal battle. US law grants public passage on all navigable waterways. These laws allow kayakers to enjoy almost all the inland and coastal waters they paddle. But without public lands and public waters, there would be little or no kayak camping in the United States.

Earlier this year, following Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Trump administration announced they would review 27 national monuments. This current battle over national monuments concerns lands that are mostly in the arid and semi-arid West. They, and most other western public land, are what remained after millions of European immigrants had taken all the fertile and well-watered bottom land and all the most productive range land. They were the leavings that were too steep, dry or infertile to productively farm or run sheep and cattle on. These unchosen lands escaped the plow and the uncontrolled grazing that destroyed the bunch grass on the original rangelands. Now we are fighting over the leavings – the poorer land that remained in public hands and now contains much of its original beauty and much of our homeland’s remaining wild animal and plant life.

This fight is not about jobs, at least not in the long term sense. Once these lands are privatized, they will be drilled, mined and overgrazed until they are unprofitable. Then they will take some other piece of public land and do the same thing with it.

My happiest moments have been on public land and after seeing many of our customers’ photos it appears that this is true for many other Pygmy paddlers as well. My goal here isn’t to alienate. It’s to highlight the importance these lands play in all of our lives in hopes that they will continue to be there for future generations to enjoy.

Freya at age 5 in her first kayak, a Goldeneye 10.

Kayak touring off the remote coast of British Columbia. For more information on public access and paddling in BC, visit: www.bcmarinetrails.org

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