The fight against fees to access our public lands lost a true champion this weekend. Robert Funkhouser, the president of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on August 10 at his home. He was 50. As described in the email announcement sent to the Coalition's supporters,
Rob was a tireless advocate of free access to public lands for everyone. He worked the phones, networked among diverse groups, met with elected officials and their staffs, spent endless hours in research, testified in Congress and before many State and County elected bodies, and authored dozens of articles, opinion columns, and policy papers, all toward the goal of rolling back, first Fee Demo, and later the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
Rob was a friend to us here at the National Parks Traveler. While I was editing Park Remark, Rob had called me to provide a road map for all the legislative efforts his organization was working to accomplish. Rob was no stranger on Capitol Hill, and had testified in front Congress against public lands fees. I'm aware of at least one occasion where Rob, with a phone call, was able to get specific park-related fee documents that other organizations were considering having to file a Freedom of Information Act to acquire. Rob was very willing to share the data he acquired with others, including Kurt and me.
When I interviewed the Washington state representative who had introduced legislation to get rid of the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act within her state, she made it clear to me that the man behind the bill was Robert. I suspect he was also behind the measures in every other Western state that has been, and is, working toward getting rid of the FLREA, including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, and California. The voices of so many have been raised on this issue, is it any surprise that the feds have taken notice? As I understand it, because of Rob's work and the work of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, we may see legislation introduced this fall from Montana Senator Max Baucus that would roll back the worst fee abuses by public land agencies. What a tremendous legacy of Robert's work that would be.
Kitty Benzar will be assuming the presidency of the WSNFC, she says, "as Rob's successor only, never as his replacement." There will be a celebration of Rob's life at 11 am on Friday, August 17, in the Dorset Inn, Dorset, Vermont. All are welcome. The email from the Coalition adds, the family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made to the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, or to a charity of your choice. Kitty Benzar notes that it would honor Rob's memory to send a letter to your federal representatives asking them to support Senator Baucus' upcoming bill.