Gratitude for legacy and heritage have been on our praiseful lips these past two days as we have made our way to Big Sky, Montanta for a week of skiing with family. We overnighted in Butte, MT the birthplace of both of my parents and a landscape both sets of my grandparents intimately knew and loved. My paternal grandfather, Knute Plate, immigrated from Sweden to Butte and worked the mines here in what is known as the “richest hill on earth.” And, my maternal grandfather advocated and proponed any project or proposal that would keep this motto socially and theoretically true.
One of the projects in which my Grampa, Don Ulrich, was critically involved was the restoration of Blacktrail Creek, which runs through the mid-line of Butte. This stream corridor, highlighted by the majestic presence of the nearby Continental Divide, had suffered adverse affects by “channelization” (or the straightening of the stream), livestock overgrazing, highway construction, and other urban development. A primary restoration goal of this project was to improve public access and use of the stream corridor as well as improving ecosystem function and biodiversity habitat. The restoration resulted in a healthier stream and made a valuable natural resource more accessible to the public.
The pedestrian trail was renamed the Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail and is now a two-mile segment of a Greenway system in Butte. Named after my grandparents, Don and Kathryn Ulrich and their dear friends and civic leaders, George and Jennie Schotte, The Blacktail Creek Restoration Project was completed in 1998. These visionaries believed that this landscape could be more than what it was. They believed that they didn’t have to be content with the status quo: a sickly stream that was a regular dump site for neighbors’ trash. Over the years, the project grew from a stream restoration project to include a recreational trail used by thousands of area residents and visitors. This grand vision resulted in something that would serve the greater community, humans and creatures combined!
Considering the stewardship work that we are currently about in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, I was struck anew with the realization of all my grandfather did on behalf of Other and the Future. In this context, he spoke on behalf of the healthy biodiversity that hung in balance depending on the health and well being of this stream corridor. He had the insight and clarity of mind to foresee that healthy and vibrant ecosystems would result in a native, beautiful landscape that would mutually enhance the health and well-being of Butte’s people and generations to come. It became clear that we do this work in our lives out of a great hope for the future, but also because of the legacy and heritage of my family’s DNA.
This was an ideal, which Grampa had to champion with both shovel in hand and policy papers in the other to get the City to support this intrinsic value proposal. But I understand now that he had a vision that was rooted in justice. It would be socially irresponsible to allow that stream to dry up due to the City’s mismanagement of resources. It would also be a holistic loss for both the creature’s depending on that landscape for life, and the inherent health benefits that would be available to the people if allowed to enjoy this native feature. Peace is the presence of justice, Martin Luther King Jr. once said. And the peaceful place that is experienced along this vibrant stream attests to the justice advocated on behalf of systems greater than our own.
For the past couple days we have been walking segments of this trail. We have offered prayers of thanksgiving for our heritage and ancestors, the lives that link us to a lineage of justness and action. It has also caused us to reflect more on our own “legacy work”–that great work of making an impact on something greater than, and beyond, ourselves. We prayed that our children would be impacted by a need outside of themselves that would cause them to cry and subsequently stand up and fight for a better way. We prayed that they too would continue to walk in our heritage’s path of faith, always looking to the mountains, from where comes our help (Psalm 121:1), for the vision to reimagine a better way on behalf of something greater than themselves.