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Virginia “Ginny” Hill Wood

Photo of Virginia “Ginny” Hill Wood
Categories: 2010 Alumnae, Conservation


Ginny landed, literally, in Alaska on a very cold New Year’s Day 1947. She had learned to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program in college, and was ferrying a war-surplus plane to Fairbanks. During World War II, she enrolled in the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and ferried all types of military planes throughout the lower 48 states. Soon after her arrival in Alaska, she started to fly tourists from Fairbanks to Kotzebue.

In 1952, she co-founded Camp Denali, which initiated eco-tourism in Alaska, with husband Morton Wood and friend, Celia Hunter. Ginny and Celia operated Camp Denali until 1975. In 1960, she helped organized the Alaska Conservation Foundation in Fairbanks to present an authentic Alaska voice on conservation issues. Ginny’s written and spoken testimony on the local, state and national levels contributed to the successful effort to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (initially Range) and the continuing efforts to preserve it as wilderness. She was deeply involved in the d-2 land selections and in campaigns to stop Project Chariot, the Rampart Dam and other projects which would destroy Alaska’s wild places. She was a founding member of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and a longtime columnist for its newsletter.

Ginny received many honors, among them the Sierra Club’s highest award, the John Muir Award in 1991 and the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. On the occasion of the latter award, former Gov. Jay Hammond called her and Celia “the grand dames of the environmental movement.” In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded its Service Citizen’s Award to Ginny. In making the award, the acting director of the Fish and Wildlife Service cited her “remarkable foresight”, which led to “Alaska’s most treasured places (remaining) untrammeled.” In 2009, Congress awarded its Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the 300 or so surviving WASPs, the first time their wartime service had been recognized and honored on a national level. In 2002, she had received the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Award for her flying efforts during World War II.

Ginny was a committed, persistent, eloquent voice for conservation values and environmental issues in Alaska. She was not afraid to speak for those values in the face of hostile opposition. She did her homework. She was an eloquent writer. Her independent lifestyle, from building cabins, flying in the bush, guiding in the Brooks Range and ANWR, combined with her advocacy for wilderness values, has inspired and served as a role model for legions of women.

Perhaps this statement from her congressional committee testimony in support of creating the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 best summarizes Ginny’s values and foresight: “The wilderness that we have conquered and squandered in our conquest of new lands has produced the traditions of the pioneer that we want to think still prevail: freedom, opportunity, adventure, and resourceful, rugged individuals. These qualities can still be nurtured in generations of the future if we are farsighted and wise enough to set aside this wild country immediately, and spare it from the exploitations of a few for the lasting benefit of the many.”

Additional Resources:
Kaye, Roger. Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2006.
Miller, Debbie S. Midnight Wilderness. Portland, Oregon: Alaska Northwest Books, 2000.
Ross, Ken. Environmental Conflict in Alaska. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech