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Gil Walker

Gil Walker
Retired School Teacher
Gravel mining was endangering the creek.

Gil Walker was an environmental activist in the “gravel wars” in which a group of local residents fought back against the destructive mining practices of Cache Creek.  Gil became involved with the Friends of Cache Creek and found ways to help try and preserve  Cache Creek by regulating the gravel mining practices. 




So can you tell me your name and your occupation?

My name is Gil Walker, and I'm a retired elementary school teacher. I've lived in Woodland since 1972, and I would drive up Cache Creek.  I went rafting with friends, went hiking up on the Blue Ridge Mountains, and became involved with the Friends of Cache Creek because they were concerned about the gravel mining and what it was doing to the creek.  That also brought me to the creek in an intimate kind of way.

So, in your opinion, what was gravel mining doing to the creek?

In my opinion, gravel mining was endangering the beauty of the creek, particularly the lower part where they were gouging out the creek and then making large pits on the side of the creek.  They were interfering with the water table, and they were causing a great deal of erosion under bridges up in the Esparto area.  Someone told me that when you disturb the lower part of a creek, it affects the upper regions of the creek.  So those were my concerns and that's why I became involved with the Friends of Cache Creek. The gravel that's in Cache Creek is some of the best in the world, and it's also some of the cleanest in the world. So that makes it very inexpensive to mine, and it's like gold.  And I admit we need our roads, we need aggregate for many, many things. But they were going about it, it seemed, without concern for the environment, which prompted me to become involved and to support the coalition and others.

What kinds of things did you do to address these issues?

Some of the ways that I became involved were to attend Board of Supervisors meetings, and the Yolo County Planning Commission meetings.  We also had monthly meetings for our own group to discuss things that we wanted to do. One of those things was to pick up the litter in one of the parts [of the creek].  The political economic motivation to achieve freedom, in terms of gravel mining, just overwhelmed us as citizens.  It just was not going to happen, that we were going to have an influence.

Could you just give me maybe a nutshell overview of what the gravel wars were and what the different sides were aiming for?

I felt that the gravel wars were all about environmentalists versus economic enterprise.  We were interested in preserving the creek and its beauty and preserving the water table as well.  The opposite side, the gravel miners, and I would lump the Board of Supervisors in that particular group [as well], were interested in getting this wonderful gravel at a very low cost. The supervisors were interested in the tax base that it provided and whatever under-the-table deals went on.  And again, I say I don't know for a fact if supervisors were bought, but they certainly weren't listening to us and the environmental concerns that we had for the creek.

What was the toughest thing for you going through the gravel wars?

There were people in our group who were so wise and so smart.  They came up with all these points that the Board of Supervisors should consider.  The fact that [the points] were just dismissed was just so disappointing.

Can you describe maybe in two sentences what the gravel wars were and the different kind of main stakeholders in the gravel wars?

The gravel wars consisted of several different groups.  Primarily, it consisted of the gravel miners themselves, those companies that are still on the creek gravel mining.  It consisted of the Yolo County Planning Commission which was supposedly working with the supervisors and trying to come up with some sort of regulations.  Then it consisted of the people of Woodland and Yolo County who had a concern about the damage that might be occurring to the creek.  We felt strongly that they were damaging the creek and they were unregulated, so therefore we, you know, stepped in to raise a red flag.

What was a positive experience for you, being involved with the Friends of Cache Creek and this movement?

Well, again, I think we made a lot of friends.  I'm going to segue to where we're having this interview and say that the Nature Preserve is on land that has been enhanced with money from the gravel people, and it's very nice for students. But, I think students need to realize that that pond out there is a deep gravel pit, and it's been made all nice and pretty.  I'm not sure you want to lay a heavy trip on elementary students, but secondary and college students need to realize the cost of what has happened in order to have the [Preserve] located here.  It's a result of deep pit gravel mining and then covering it up with an educational center.  And the gravel we walk on here in the barn and out on the roads all came from the creek, for good or for badI think the mining should be closely monitored and regulated to make sure that they're not pushing the limits in terms of how deep they go and how far off the creek they go and how much they interfere with the water table.  I know the word regulation to those people is a no-no word, but it's the only thing that will save us.  We need regulation.

And what lessons do you take away? Good or not good, from your experience being an environmental activist in the gravel wars?

Well, there's a whole lot of environment along Cache Creek, and so I wouldn't want to be discouraged from trying to find those peaceful natural places and enjoy the outdoors.  I come away with a very negative attitude toward the political process when it comes down to specifics, and this was a very specific issue. A lot of people who favored regulation were not listened to.  You have to, I guess, look at it realistically.  You did your best and that's all you can do.

Written by: 
Phil Mann

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