American Heroes - Alden Lind

A Man with a Superior Attitude

02-01-1997 // Susan Champlin Taylor

Alden Lind is tough. For years, he has refused to succumb to fatal cancers, and on three occasions, he has declined to allow heart attacks to crimp his lifestyle. But his fighting spirit--and, okay, his sheer obstinance--are most evident in the four decades he has spent battling those who would threaten the purity of Lake Superior.

“Anyone--citizen, corporation, government or otherwise--planning to pollute in the Lake Superior region can pretty much take for granted that Alden's going to step into the picture to try to stop it," says Laura Rose Day, manager of NWF's Lake Superior and Biodiversity Project.

For Minnesotan Lind, a man of both modesty and pragmatism, this is not heroics; it's simply what you do. "The more time you spend on this kind of thing, the more committed you have to become," he asserts. "If you appreciate the incredible implications of water-quality problems in a lake this size, you realize it's a barometer of conditions nationwide. You have to pay attention."

Lind has been paying close attention to the lake all his life. Born in Duluth and raised at the resort his parents operated on Superior's north shore, he grew up with a strong connection to the lake, and a sense that its pristine qualities should be protected .

So in 1956, when a 21-year-old Alden Lind saw "billowing pea-green clouds" in the water, he became concerned. When further inspection proved that the discoloration only existed down current from the nearby Reserve Mining Company, Lind (as county chairman of the local Democratic-Farmer-Labor organization) took action .

Though he was already battling the Ewing's sarcoma to which he would later lose his right leg, Lind marshaled his questions and took them into a meeting with Reserve's attorneys. The results were not quite what he had hoped: "They ridiculed me for my youth and laughed me out of the building," he says. Yet it was not a wasted effort. "It alerted people to the fact that there were potential problems," he adds. "And the questions I asked then turned out years later to have been correct questions."

Twenty years later, in fact. In the interim, Lind had moved away to teach political science at the University of North Carolina; back home, his sister, Arlene, joined with others to form the Save Lake Superior Association. The group succeeded in convincing a federal judge to order Reserve to stop dumping its taconite tailings--finely ground particles which contained asbestoslike fibers--into the lake. When Lind returned to Duluth in 1974, he joined the group's board and played a major role in the effort to make sure that disposal of the tailings took place at the safest possible site.

In the two decades since, Lind has successfully led fights against a number of other potential threats to the lake. Several years ago, for instance, he helped defeat a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Duluth Port Authority to build a channel extension of the Duluth-Superior harbor, which would have exposed the area to thousands of tons of polluted dredge spoils. To defeat the plan, Lind formulated figures to show why it was not economically justifiable. He also came up with a more cost-effective alternative proposal.

More recently, Lind provided ammunition for conservationists to successfully stop another Army Corps plan to develop year-round commercial navigation on the Great Lakes. If developed, the plan would have increased erosion along certain shoreline areas and disrupted several winter fish-migration routes. "No issue is decided on the basis of one person's actions," says Lind. "I merely offer an expertise which, when combined with the strengths of others, has a cumulative effect."

Despite his health problems, Lind's energy never seems to flag. Indeed, he exasperates his wife, Ora, by forever taking up new causes. His latest crusade is the fight to protect Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Voyageurs National Park from further motorized traffic.

"Alden's skill as an activist is surpassed only by his ability to inspire people to action," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "Like the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior where he was raised, Alden's contribution of stewardship promises to endure."

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