Chuck Morrison, local advocate for wilderness and recreation, dies at 71

Chuck Morrison, a retiree of the shipping industry who led efforts to preserve and promote the wild places and small towns of the rolling foothills north of Mount Rainier, died at his Tacoma home Nov. 3 from a heart attack. He was 71.

Dedicated to the cause until the end, Morrison was in constant contact over the last few weeks of his life with friends, stakeholders and the media — including this newspaper — about the future of the Carbon River Cooperative Action Plan (CAP).

It was in his nature to be a connecter, Chuck’s son Andrew Morrison said, whether in his personal, professional or political life.

“He wasn’t the guy that was going to put together the structure,” Andrew Morrison said. “He was going to connect people, and that was really a passion for him … It showed through in his ability to get involved in the communities up and around Wilkeson, Buckley, all these places he was working.”

Born March 15, 1951 in San Jose, California, Morrison moved to Los Angeles with his family at a young age. He often took summer road trips to visit family in Bellingham, sparking his interest in the Pacific Northwest.

After moving to Washington in 1964, Morrison graduated from Shoreline High School and studied Communication at the University of Washington. In 1972, he began a 25-year-long career at container shipping company SeaLand, ultimately reaching the role of logistics manager.

His career in the shipping industry also showed another common thread in Chuck’s life, Andrew Morrison said: His interest in the movement of people and things.

Chuck met his future wife Mary Stanton in 1972 and married her in 1977 in the gardens of the Woodland Park Zoo. They had two sons: Andrew and Alec.

After leaving SeaLand around 1997, Morrison devoted his energies to volunteering on land-use projects, including the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition, the Bridge for Kids organization and the Carbon River Forum.

Morrison was deeply involved in the Foothills Rails-to-Trails effort, which currently connects Puyallup and Sumner all the way to Buckley through trails build on historical rail lines. In time, organizations like the Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition hope to expand that network down to Fairfax, near the Carbon River entrance of Mount Rainier; connect it to Enumclaw via an upcoming pedestrian bridge; and even link it to the Interurban Trail that extends through Kent and Auburn.

Chuck was fascinated by the history of those old railroads and the promise their foundations held to connect people in new ways and teach them the history of the region.

“He loved the idea of national parks, and the democratic ideal that this is our land collectively,” Andrew said. “It’s easy to see how all these pieces, Bridge for Kids, Foothills Rails to Trails, Carbon River Forum all fit into the passion.”

He was also entrenched in the efforts to pass the Carbon River CAP, an ambitious proposal to bring together local governmental bodies and community groups with a guiding plan for managing recreation, wilderness preservation and safety in the Carbon River Corridor, which includes the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado and the valley reaching up toward Mount Rainier.

Chuck was incessant and excited about the possibility of the CAP finally coming to fruition, Andrew Morrison said. The Pierce County Council is set to vote on the matter this Tuesday (Nov. 22) during their council meeting at 3 p.m., after this edition of the paper is laid out but before the paper arrives to mailboxes.

“He was like, beside himself excited,” Andrew Morrison said. “It’s going to be super bittersweet to not have him on Tuesday.”

Chuck’s death was sudden and unexpected, his son Andrew said. “He didn’t slow down.”

The day before his death, Chuck helped one of his granddaughters learn to ride a bicycle, sharing his lifelong passion for cycling, according to the family. And the morning of his passing, he had volunteered for an early shift at an election office to observe ballot counting — reflective of his love of the democratic process and fair elections.

As Chuck’s family grieves and processes his death, Andrew Morrison said he feels grateful that the vivid memories he has of his father in the Pacific Northwest will live on in places like Wilkeson and the Mount Rainier National Park.

“I feel in that sense, very, very lucky that if I’m coming to town, I have a place to go that I can feel that presence of my father,” Andrew Morrison said. “He gets to live on in the actions and impact.”

If nothing else, Chuck was embodied the spirit of Howard Zimm’s “A People’s History of America,” Andrew Morrison said. He was an old-school, shoe-leather grassroots style activist who wanted others to care about the society they lived in. As much as he could, he was out of the house, eager to induct others into the democratic process or pass out flyers up and down Highway 165.

“He was a strong, strong advocate for the political power that we all have,” Andrew Morrison said. “We think of history as this record of exceptional people doing exceptional things … (but) the Howard Zimm philosophy says no — President (Abraham) Lincoln, we revere him, but he was the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole movement, and this massive amount of people behind him … and my dad was a huge believer in that idea. … He was so focused on this idea that we all kind of carry the collective ability to work as communities, and that’s how things get done. … If he had a message for us, it would be to say: We need to have more trust in each other, and we need to figure out ways to work together, to accomplish things that can improve all of our lives. “

Chuck Morrison is survived by his wife Mary; son Andrew and his wife Jackie Zins; son Alec, his wife Andrea (Silvernale) and their children, Emily and Hailey; sister Marjorie Stiffler and her husband Gerald; and nieces Lisa and Kristi Stiffler; and his many sisters- and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews.

Carbon River community members and businesses plan to host a remembrance gathering on Sunday, Nov. 27 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Nomad Cafe in Wilkeson, 2-5pm November 27th.

According to the family, in lieu of gifts or flowers, Morrison would have wanted donations to go toward Mount Rainier National Park via