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Kate Rogers McCarthy ’39

Environmentalist Kate McCarthy, who successfully fought to protect Mount Hood’s fragile ecosystem from development, was always connected to the land she grew up on. 

Born to Homer and Elizabeth Smith Rogers in 1917, Kate spent much of her youth on the family’s property four miles south of Parkdale, Oregon, in the shadow of Mount Hood, where she spent countless hours hiking and riding horses through the meadows and forests. 

She went to high school at Miss Catlin’s School for Girls (now known as Catlin Gabel) and ran a summer camp for girls with her sister, Betty, on their family’s land.

Kate majored in biology at Reed and wrote her thesis on angiosperms of the Mt. Hood region with Prof. Una Davies [biology 1939-52]. She went on to the Yale School of Nursing and graduate school at the University of Oregon Medical School. In 1942, she married Gerald McCarthy; the couple raised four sons, Stephen McCarthy ’65, Timothy, Kermit, and Michael. In 1964, the couple purchased the Sutton ranch next to the family property in Parkdale where they lived after Gerald retired as manager from Umpqua Plywood in Roseburg.

“McCarthy’s farm sits picture-postcard-perfect in the frame of Mount Hood,” the Oregonian columnist Jonathan Nicholas wrote in 1987. “In the mid-1970s, plans for a major resort development on the north side of Mount Hood were derailed when (Kate) McCarthy and others objected to having their land turned into ‘a playground for the rich of Oregon and the world.’”

Fired by her lifelong passion for the land and its wildlife, Kate devoted herself to protecting and preserving it for the future enjoyment of others. She and her Parkdale neighbors encouraged county leaders to hold an advisory vote on zoning options, which was influential in creating the present predominantly agricultural zoning in the upper valley. When a large destination resort was proposed south of Parkdale, Kate and friends founded the Hood River Valley Residents Committee to lobby opposition. The committee grew to 1,200 members and the Hood River County Planning Commission ultimately denied the resort proposal. The Hood River Valley Residents Committee remains active today working to keep Hood River County a special place to live.

Kate lobbied to have the Columbia Gorge officially declared a scenic area and was appointed by Oregon governor Bob Straub to serve on the commission to advise how the gorge should be managed. The turning point came when President Reagan signed the act creating the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in 1986.

Kate was active in other groups, including the Oregon Natural Resources Council (now Oregon Wild), the board of the Oregon Environmental Council, and was a charter member of 1000 Friends of Oregon. She devoted 30 years to working with the Forest Service and the Oregon congressional delegation to set aside more land for wilderness and protect wetlands, mountain meadows, and other special places from development. In 2002, she was awarded honorary membership in the Mazamas for her tireless efforts.

Kate is survived by her four sons, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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