Environment and Government

Wild over wilderness: Alaska conservation effort keeps Galyan's founder busy

January 24, 2005

But Galyan's name still carries weight like one of his old store's GoLite Gust backpacks. Galyan-thesalesman-turned-fund-raiser managed to attract 30 outdoorsmen last week to dine in a bistro that carved vegetables into unmanly shapes.

Then he convinced them to fork over cash to help protect 40 million acres of land-in southwest Alaska. "I'm Pat Galyan, of former Galyan's fame," he told an audience that ranged from the CEO of a window company to a top-dog lawyer who told his tablemates he loves to shoot critters. In the end, Galyan and his dinner guests raised about $20,000, according to the Anchorage arm of The Conservation Fund. Galyan figures the total raised around Indiana last week topped $100,000.

The fund is buying property and conservation easements to ensure public access to Alaskan land that's threatened by development. The purchases also are to protect species such as salmon.

"It would be a terrible tragedy to let this piece of the country get trashed" like the lower 48 states, Galyan told his dinnermates. "If somebody hadn't protected [New York's] Central Park, by God, it would have been developed."

Galyan is an avid fisherman who travels to Alaska roughly three times a year. He spends about half the year here and the other at his Montana home. That's when he's not making the rounds at sporting goods trade shows. In 2002, Galyan was elected to the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame.

As a practical matter, he's been out of the pilothouse at Galyan's since 1995, when it was sold to Columbus, Ohio, retailer The Limited. A majority interest in Galyan's was sold four years later to private investment house Freeman Splogli. Galyan's launched a public stock offering in 2001.

"I like [fund raising]," Galyan said before the dinner, wearing a white shirt and black vest that would have made a Cartwright brother proud. "At the same time, I'm a real type A. It's kind of hard. Fund raising is not like running a company."

Perhaps not, but Galyan is responsible for a chunk of the $9 million The Conservation Fund has raised for southwest Alaska over the last two years. Earlier in the day of his recent fund-raising dinner, he convinced sporting goods chain Gander Mountain to contribute $25,000.

"He's helped us bring in at least a few hundred thousand dollars" over the years, said Glenn Elison, Alaska state director of The Conservation Fund.

Among those Galyan has inspired to give is Bill Freeman, chairman of Indianapolis-based Charles C. Brandt Construction Co.

"Alaska is one of the great fisheries left that we can save," said Freeman, who frequently visits Alaska to fish. He releases all his catch except for what his son and grandchildren cook up on river gravel bars where they camp.

Saving Alaskan wilderness, as Freeman sees it, is also about respecting nature and conveying life lessons, like teamwork. Freeman said there's no quality time like eight days of fishing with one's son in Alaska, right down to watching each other's back for bear while the other leaves camp to take a leak.

"You really don't get a passion for [Alaska] unless you get up there and see it," said Jeff Adams of Carmel, who's been going on Alaskan fishing trips for three years.

Galyan caught the Alaska bug in the early 1970s, when the Navy dispatched him to the Aleutian Islands, where he went fishing for the electronic signatures of Soviet submarines.

On the flight to Alaska was fellow Navy man Elison, who stopped in Indianapolis last week to help Galyan. "Every metro area has dedicated hunters and fisherman," Elison said.

The Conservation Fund seeks private donations to attract foundation and government matching grants. One of its recent successes was acquiring three properties consisting of 241 acres along the Agulowak River in southwest Alaska. The river is home to an estimated 1.4 million sockeye salmon, which are vital to the region.

An 80-percent plunge in the value of salmon due to competition from countries such as Chile and Norway has driven many of the native people to sell their land for cash, now that their fishing incomes have been dashed.

"In the late 1980s, a single sockeye salmon was worth more than a barrel of oil," Elison said.

Selling land to private developers often cuts off access and can ruin the environment, conservationists say. Much of the land being sold is at the mouths of rivers and other ecologically sensitive areas.

"The pieces [the natives] own control the whole destiny of the ecosystem," Galyan said. "I always say for every 50 cents you give us you get to save an acre. It's infinitely cheaper to save something from destruction than to repair something."
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