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Chuck Williams papers

Identifier: WUA127

Scope and Contents

The Chuck Williams Collection includes materials documenting Williams’ careers, environmental activism, writings, and research. Series I (Friends of the Earth) includes Williams’ U.S. National Parks manuscript, correspondence, and research materials on the U.S. National Parks System, the National Park Inholders Association, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt. Series II (Columbia Gorge Coalition) includes Williams' History of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, materials on the creation, passage, and legacy of the 1986 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, as well as materials on environmental groups and organizations in the Pacific Northwest. Series III (Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishing Commission) includes research materials on tribal water and fishing rights, histories of Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest, the Yakima/Klickitat Fisheries Project, slideshow transcripts, and conference proceedings. Series IV (Salmon Corps) contains materials on AmeriCorps, Earth Conservation Corps, and the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock, Yakama, and Warm Springs Salmon Corps programs.


  • 1943-2016

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Biographical / Historical

Charles Otis “Chuck” Williams was born on July 20, 1943, in Portland, Oregon, and he and his family moved to Petaluma, California several years later. After graduating from high school in 1962, Williams took engineering classes at a local community college and worked full time as a draftsman and technician, eventually landing a job at Johnson Controls and working on projects for NASA and Boeing. Despite his success, Williams realized he wasn’t cut out for this career path and went on to serve with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and AmeriCorps VISTA in El Paso, Texas. In 1973, he earned a BA in Art from Sonoma State University. Williams began travelling the United States extensively, ultimately spending seven years touring the National Parks System (he managed to visit every park in the contiguous U.S.) in his camper van while honing his writing and photography skills. As he travelled, he sent notes to the environmental organization Friends of the Earth (FOE), informing them of issues he noticed while exploring the parks. This caught the attention of FOE’s founder, David Brower, who offered him a position as the organization’s National Parks Representative. While serving in this position, Williams lobbied for stronger protections for national parks and helped establish the Golden Gate and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Areas. He also wrote articles for FOE’s’s journal, Not Man Apart. In the late 1970s, Williams moved back to his native Oregon to care for his ailing father, and became involved with the fight to preserve the Columbia River Gorge.

In 1979, Williams co-founded the Columbia Gorge Coalition, a grassroots environmental group that began the campaign for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. In an article for Earthwatch Oregon in February 1979, Williams summed up the conflict in the Gorge: “Most conservationists agree that strong federal action will be needed to preserve the Gorge. Like Lake Tahoe, the Gorge is shared by two states that seldom see eye to eye, and nearly fifty local jurisdictions spread up and down both sides of the river have never been known to agree on anything. A national scenic area managed by the National Park Service is the most likely proposal.” To help bring attention to the cause, Williams wrote, photographed, and largely self-financed the publication of his book, Bridge of the Gods, Mountains of Fire: A Return to the Columbia River Gorge. After years of contention, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act was passed in 1986. Williams did not think the National Scenic Area (NSA) provided necessary protections and considered the legislation a failure. He continued to fight for stronger protections and worked with his family to preserve their land allotment in the Columbia Gorge, ultimately establishing the land as the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Williams went on to serve as the Public Information Office Manager and Publications Editor for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishing Alliance (CRITFC), an organization that coordinates management policy and provides fisheries technical services for the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes. Williams’ position at CRITFC led him to begin photographically documenting various tribal and cultural celebrations throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 1994, he co-founded and managed the Salmon Corps, an AmeriCorps program that worked with Native American youth to restore salmon habitats and riparian areas in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. He continued to photograph cultural festivals and celebrations in the Pacific Northwest and exhibited them in the Columbia Gorge Gallery, which he operated out of his home in The Dalles. Proceeds from prints sold were shared with the subjects of his photographs–a testament to the depth of his care for his community. Williams also designed calendars commemorating Celilo Falls and offered slideshows and presentations on the histories of Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest. In 2013, Williams, along with David G. Lewis and Eirik Thorsgard, co-authored the chapter “Honoring our Tilixam: Chinookan People of Grand Ronde” in the book Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia.

During his storied career, Chuck Williams was a tireless advocate for the protection of countless rivers, forests, parks, and animals, earning him the nickname “Wild and Scenic Chuck” (in Chinook Wawa, “chuck” means river). He consistently placed environmental causes before his own well being, and this took a toll on his health and finances. In 2015, Williams was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he died on April 24, 2016.


28 Linear Feet (33 boxes)


The Chuck Williams papers document the life and work of Charles Otis “Chuck” Williams during the years 1943 to 2016. The materials provide insight into the history of the Columbia River Gorge and the creation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, grassroots environmental activism, U.S. National Parks, tribal fisheries, and the cultures and history of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. This collection includes manuscripts, newsletters, newspaper clippings, correspondence, journals, pamphlets, photographs, and artifacts.


The records are arranged into seven series: I. Friends of the Earth, II. Columbia Gorge Coalition, III. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), IV. Salmon Corps, V. Writings, and VI. Personal. Series I includes three subseries: A. U.S. National Parks Service, B. “The Park Rebellion” Files, and C. Newsletters and Administrative Files. Series II includes four subseries: A. Pre-Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (NSA) Act B. Post-Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (NSA) Act C. Research Files D. Williams' History of the Columbia River Gorge NSA. Series III includes two subseries: A. Newsletters and Research Files, and B. Managerial and Administrative Files. Files are arranged in alphabetical and original order.

Note: Series II, Subseries A and B, were arranged using a combination of original and alphabetical order. Original order was preserved wherever possible.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library
Guide to the Chuck Williams papers, 1943-2016
In Progress
Finding aid processed by Rosie Yanosko, Stephanie Milne-Lane, and Susan Irwin.
© 2020
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
This project was funded by an LSTA grant from the State Library of Oregon.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States