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Mary Lou (Neville) King

Photo of Mary Lou (Neville) King
1929
Biography

Mary Lou King was born in Oregon in 1929 on a small farm near Crater Lake National Park. She grew up in the woods of Southern Oregon and was conscious early on about what can be done to beautify outdoor spaces. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education at Northwest Missouri State College and taught high school for one year in Iowa and six years in Oregon. At the end of the 7th year of teaching after deciding she might be an “old maid,” forever, she moved to Alaska for an adventure in 1958. In Juneau, she worked for the Territory of Alaska’s Department of Education serving rural students through a correspondence program. Thus started her passion for bringing locally relevant education to Alaskan students. She met Jim King through friends in Juneau, married in 1961 and lived in Fort Yukon, Fairbanks and Bethel before returning to Juneau in 1964. Jim worked as a waterfowl biologist all over the state for 30 years. King believes her finest accomplishments are her children: daughters Sara and Laura, born eleven months apart in 1962, who now live in Seattle and Portland and son James, born in 1967, who lives in Juneau.

Juneau is a healthier community because of King’s work and her “90 Trails” book. Hearthside Bookstore in Juneau reports that they sell more copies of this book each year than any other single book. Packets prepared by employers in town, including Juneau’s Bartlett Hospital and the University of Alaska Southeast include 90 Short Walks Around Juneau.  King’s trail work and book have changed the habits of the people of Juneau, dog walkers, kid walkers, joggers, old people, and families. As she said herself in an interview with the Juneau Community Foundation, “If you get children outside, to recognize and learn about the environment and to appreciate it, that makes us all better caretakers of the world we live in.”

Her love of the outdoors led King through a long history of advocacy for nature and health. In the early 1970’s she helped instigate a movement to add separate bike paths to the roads in Juneau. Those legacy bike paths were established and have been expanded since then. She became active in the Juneau Audubon Society since it’s beginning in the 1970s and has been a member of the board almost continuously since then. In presenting her with the Great Egret Award in 2012, the National Audubon Society noted that, “Mary Lou King has served over the years as President, Newsletter Chair, Education Chair, Conservation Chair … and berry picker and Juneau Audubon jelly maker…” Also as an active member of the Taku Conservation Society, she was a leader in protecting public access to Juneau’s beaches as the town expanded as well as locating and identifying old mining routes and adding them and some new trails to the Juneau trails system. Her interests and advocacy are still very much present in the community.

In the early 1970s, parents in Juneau’s Auke Bay Grade School, valuing education about the local marine environment, maritime industry and history and culture, started a program called Sea Week. King jumped enthusiastically into this effort, and it was not long before she was leading it. Each winter she consulted tide books to determine when the lowest tides would occur during school hours, located beaches best for classes to be held, coordinated the transportation, and secured agency specialists who could lead the field trips. By 1980, Sea Week was mandated curriculum in Juneau School District’s elementary schools. Every class at every school went on two spring field trips, one to the beach at low tide and one to open to the public developed facilities such has the Glacier Visitor’s Center, Nation Marine Fisheries buildings, fish hatchery, museums and still do to this day.

Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director with Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, testified to the lasting effects that Sea Week has on the life of Juneau students: “When talking about how I became a woman in seafood and science, I refer to the unique opportunity growing up in Southeast Alaska and being immersed in the hands-on education opportunities like Sea Week. The value of the Sea Week program is not just an education on the names of intertidal species, but it is an experience. An experience that links kids to asking questions, learning, exploring and eventually, like myself, following that intrigue to a path in science. …. When talking about the connection people in Alaska have to Alaska seafood, I reference Sea Week and the unique experience elementary school kids have when growing up in Southeast Alaska!” King continued to volunteer in schools after her own children graduated, including mentoring “many, many science fair projects.”

Mary Lou’s love of history and Native culture resulted not only in learning difficult techniques of basket making in cedar bark and spruce roots, but also in Chilkat weaving techniques. She learned the correct season, soil condition and weather to go out and ‘harvest’ the spruce roots and then prepare them. Over the years she taught classes in basketry and weaving. She used these skills to contribute in many ways. After the discovery of a 700-year-old Tlingit fish trap in Juneau in 2006, she constructed a model of a trap and donated it to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Today this exhibit is one of the most popular hands-on exhibits in the museum and teaches children and the public about all the ways a fish trap can be made and how it catches fish.

King was the editor and contributed articles for decades to the newsletters of the Juneau Audubon Society and the Ravenstail Weavers’ Guild. She also authored numerous pamphlets for the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. According to Kay Parker, President, Ravenstail Weavers’ Guild, “Her support of the Northwest Coast Arts has founded a Northwest Coast University Art endowment at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), where King was a substitute teacher for basketry and material collection and preparation. Jane Lindsey, Director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum praised King’s interest in history and local settlements: “Mary Lou King has supported the Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s history and cultural interpretation for many years. As the author of the 90 Short Walks, Treadwell Mine Historic Trail Guide, and co-author of Last Chance Mining Museum & Historical Park, Mary Lou has worked diligently to encourage historic trail exploration and preservation. The Museum has carried these booklets in our gift shop for many years and they are still popular with visitors.”

Much of Mary Lou’s work locally and regionally has impacted the state as well. Sea Week in Juneau became the Alaska Sea and River Week program through the support of the Alaska Sea Grant College Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The university took her successful program to the state level and revised King’s local Sea Week guides to be the Alaska Seas and Rivers Week Guides. King’s use of informed parents leading classes on minus-tide walks, rainforest walks and birds walks with lectures and lessons from US Coast Guard safety personnel, Alaska Fish and Game Department wildlife biologists, Fish and Wildlife biologists and NOAA University oceanographers has remained the model. In 2004, King and her husband Jim were jointly awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Alaska Conservation Foundation for their contributions to the state of Alaska. The stated purpose of this award is “To celebrate the accomplishments of remarkable individuals who have made a difference by devoting significant parts of their lives to protecting and enhancing Alaska’s natural greatness, and thanks them for their tireless dedication and advocacy.” King was also recognized twice for her help in identifying and photographing two new species to the official Alaska state checklist of birds. The species were the green-backed heron (August 1983, #407) and the scissor-tailed flycatcher (July 2002, #469).

King joined the effort in the 1970’s to protect Admiralty Island by writing letters, campaigning for protection, and relying on a scientific study about the impact on the island’s wildlife. The campaign was successful and the area was protected through the establishment of Admiralty National Monument in 1978, then in statute in 1980 in the Alaska National Interest Lands Claims Act. The Forest Service now manages the island, which hosts a mine, but also provides the nation a special natural and cultural area for generations to come. In 1999 Mary Lou and Jim King made a legacy contribution to their community by leaving land from their homestead at the edge of the tide flats to the Southeast Alaska Land Trust. Mary Lou and Jim King continue to live in Juneau and to advocate for the interests they’ve been involved in throughout their lives there. Their son James became the first Executive Director of Trail Mix, Inc. a nonprofit corporation that works with the agencies to manage the Juneau trails system. He later served as the Alaska’s State Parks Director. He currently lives in Juneau with his wife Christine and their four kids where he works for the U.S. Forest Service as the regional Director of Recreation, Lands and Minerals.

Brenda Wright, a friend and colleague who nominated King for this award described why she tapped her for the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame award:

She is a charismatic person who can draw one into her projects with her enthusiasm. She drafts someone, then mentors and teaches them and then they go on to contribute and to leadership and then she works and helps the next volunteer. Whether the project is fundraising by manufacturing dozens of cedar bark animal ornaments, or producing local fruit jam five batches at a time, or working with City Planning Department staff, or lobbying the legislature, or advocating in Congress, she commits herself wholly to the project she is involved in and is a role model for all. She mentored a whole community to recognize the richness of our intertidal and natural gifts. 

Honors/Awards Received:

The Great Egret Award, The National Audubon Society, 2012. “In recognition of generous contributions in preserving the history of the Juneau-Douglas area.”

Lifetime Achievement Award, Gastineau Channel Historical Society, 2007.

Lifetime Achievement Award, The Alaska Conservation Foundation, 2004, with husband Jim.

Volunteer Service Recognition, Southeast Alaska Land Trust, 1999.

Conservation Award for Exceptional Service, State of Alaska, Alaska State Museum, Governor Tony Knowles, 1996.

Citizen Participation Award in Recognition of Service through Gold and Blue Ribbon Capital City Citizens Committee, Chevron, 1989.

Governor’s Volunteer Award of the Year, Juneau School District, 1986.

Special Commendation for Valuable Public Service, State of Alaska, Governor Bill Sheffield, 1986.

Juneau Community Education Volunteer Award of the Year, City and Borough of Juneau, Mayor Fran Ulmer, 1985.

Conservation Educator of the Year Award, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Department of Interior, Washington, DC, 1983.

Other acknowledgements:

Single handedly, Mary Lou raised Juneau consciousness to the magnificence and uniqueness of our home. By developing the underlying structure of the base curriculum, the rotating low tide beach use, the use of professional agencies to support classroom and field experiences, she brought environment to the forefront for every child.

— Susan Baxter, retired teacher and former Juneau Sea Week Coordinator

Mary Lou is such a kind and generous lady who is open to learning – perhaps one of the reasons she was part of the group of Sea Week organizers. Growing up with Sea Week as a part of our spring time learning was always exciting for me because it mirrored my experiences outside of school – we were always going to the beaches or along shorelines for various reasons – food gathering, playing, picnics, etc. As an elementary teacher this is a natural opportunity for me to integrate Tlingit ecological knowledge and language along with the science curriculum of Sea Week. We also try to go to the beach at different times of the year to see similarities and differences. I am thankful for the program, and humbled to know Mary Lou King.

— Hans Chester, Tlingit Language & Culture Teacher, Juneau School District

My first work in Alaska was learning from Mary Lou about how to teach Alaskan students about the natural and cultural world around them. I’ve applied what Mary Lou taught me then in every job I’ve had since. The philosophy of education she modeled in Sea Week in Juneau and the basic tenets of community members’ involvement in their students’ education have stayed with me and been promoted by me in every position I’ve held. And beyond my professional life, Mary Lou was simply a role model for living and the kind of person to be for me when I started life in Alaska. That will stay with me always.

— Peggy Cowan, past Superintendent of Juneau School District and North Slope Borough School District

Mary Lou has been a role model for me ever since I met her 30 years ago. We were both part of a small dedicated group of weavers that wove a Ravenstail Robe for the Alaska State Museum in Juneau when Ravenstail weaving was just beginning its resurgence. Her dedication to this art form and to basketry are obvious to all that know her . . . in her practice of these art forms, but also in the joy of teaching others and creating educational material that will help beginners. Mary Lou’s endless energy for weaving and the enjoyment she gets from sharing the simple pleasure of weaving and her knowledge of the sense of accomplishment, pride and value this weaving can bring to a person’s life are what inspire me to continue teaching Ravenstail weaving.

— Kay Parker, head of Ravenstail Weaver’s Guild

Show up at Mary Lou’s on weaving morning and you will be starting a basket and having the time of your life!”

Publications:

King, J.G., King, M.L. Birds in Alaska’s south coastal environment: A workbook and Field Guide.

King, M.L. (2015). 90 short walks around Juneau. Discovery Southeast Taku Conservation Society Trail Mix, Inc.

King, M.L., Ekins, E. (2011). Nature detectives on our favorite trails.

Other materials developed by Mary Lou King:

“My Favorite Wild Southeast Alaska Berries and Greens”, “Illustrated Instructions for Twined Spruce Root or Cedar Bark Basket and a Model Spruce Fish Trap”, “Treadwell Mine Historic Trail, Juneau-Douglas Mining District, Walking Tour map & Historic Guide”, text Mary Lou King, “Perseverance Trail, Trail Guide”, coordinated by Mary Lou King and Paul Emerson, Eagle Beach State Recreation Area brochure (editor and contributor) Outer Point Trail

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/NU81p2AdOF8

References:

Jim and Mary Lou King, Interview by the Juneau Community Foundation. Accessed at http://juneaucf.org/index.php/king/.

Mary Lou King. Hearthside Bookstore. Accessed at http://www.hearthsidebooks.com/localauthors/214320.

King, Jim & Mary Lou (Neville). Juneau-Douglas City Museum, Parks & Recreation, City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska. Accessed at: http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/museum/forms/GCM/readarticle.php?UID=923&newxtkey=.

Notes

For more than fifty years, Mary Lou King has followed her love of nature, education, and her community to benefit those around her. She is known for opening the natural world of Juneau to countless generations of Juneau residents and tourists through her trails work and publications. King is a tireless conservationist whose advocacy made a difference in the preservation of and public access to Southeast Alaska. Finally, she is an educator who helped to establish Sea Week in Juneau and supported it to becoming the field experience for three generations of Juneau students in every grade and classroom in the elementary schools, then guided the expansion of Sea Week to a statewide program for the State of Alaska.

King is one of those rare individuals who have the vision and clarity to know what is needed by a community and the determination and energy to carry that through to fruition. In the early 1980s, she worked with the City Planning Department and identified the public access points to beaches, establishing trails and signage at beach access spots throughout the Borough. King led multiple Juneau conservation societies and published the definitive Juneau trail guide, 90 Short Walks Around Juneau, first printed in 1987 and now in its fourth printing. Mary Lou’s conservation work has had national impact and recognition. In the 1970s she worked with the Taku Conservation Society and the Friends of Admiralty to protect Admiralty Island. She was an advocate for countering a plan that would have resulted in a sale of timber of much of the island, which is now a national treasure.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/NU81p2AdOF8