21 November 2017 — 0754 mdt
John Frederick — the North Fork Flathead never had a better friend
The North Fork Flathead River has had many good friends — but none was better than Polebridge’s John Frederick, who died at 74 last week. Inkeeper, trail builder, environmental activist, outdoorsman, his tenacity and leadership helped keep Canadian coal in the ground, clean water in the river, and public officials on their toes and good behavior.
Outsiders meeting John for the first time sometimes mistook him for a simple rustic, good hearted but without sophistication. His friends knew better. He had a keen sense of showmanship. When in Toronto to shame Rio Tinto, the company intending to dig coal at Cabin Creek, at its stockholders meeting — he purchased stock so he could speak as a shareholder — he wore a black, western cut, suit, and black flat-brimmed hat, a sartorial choice that one associates with a circuit riding preacher in the 19th century west. By comparison, Brian Schweitzer’s shooting jackets and bolo ties were pure Savile Row. John’s costume helped him present himself as David fighting Goliath, and Toronto’s news media loved it. A three-piece suit and polkadot tie never would have led to coverage so favorable.
When the International Joint Commission held a hearing in Kalispell on the Cabin Creek mine, John’s showmanship again spiced his presentation. Not content to paint a picture of doom with words, an under-appreciated skill of this English major from Ohio, he stood at the microphone with a Mason jar two-thirds full of clear liquid. That, he informed the IJC, was water dipped from the North Fork at the international border. Then, holding the jar for all to see, he poured coal from Cabin Creek into the water, which of course turned black. That, he announced, is what would happen to the North Fork if the Cabin Creek mine was dug. A publicity stunt? Yep. Effective? You betcha. His only mistake was not tipping the local TV station to his demonstration, and Mark Holston almost tripped rushing to get the scene on video.
Because of John’s efforts, and the efforts of his friends, that coal remains in the ground. And because it remains in the ground, it will remain a dollar sign in the eyes of coal diggers everywhere. Consequently, it will stay in the ground only if John’s friends, and the North Fork’s friends, old and new, honor his memory and accomplishments by defending the North Fork with eternal vigilance and zeal. That they will do — and therefore, old friend, wherever you are now, rest easy, for the river will flow clear and clean forever.