We lost a great one
Robbi Castleberry, 1933 – 2013
My son overheard the conversation when Brian gave me the news that Robbi passed away.
“Did someone die?”
“Yes, we lost a great one.”
“What makes someone great?”
Someone who makes everyone around them better than they know they are. Someone whose presence makes you try harder and do more because you want them to think well of you. Robbi was one of those people.
The Forum and I were blessed by Robbi. Our first big idea when we started in 2008 was to take people down the entire length of the 111 mile Spokane River. There was only one problem, only three people had ever done it. Robbi made sure that didn’t stop us. She came to meetings, pointed us in the right direction and gave us that comforting feeling that “it would be alright. Fun, actually.” And as her and Vic paddled with us from Blue Creek to the Spokane Reservation that summer, I thought to myself “It sure would be nice to grow up to be like Robbi.”
That was the beginning of Meet Me at the River. Since then, over 700 people have joined us to discover one or more sections of the river. For many, it was their first time. 21 have done all 111 miles. Without people like Robbi, it never would have happened.
Next came the idea of developing the Spokane River Water Trail and improved river access. Everyone said, “Go see Robbi.” Robbi, you see, spent years with others from the canoe and kayak club designing improved access at Sullivan Park. The design for a stairway was complete and the materials purchased. Then came a call from a state agency that they wouldn’t provide a permit after all. It never got done. The mistrust and bad feelings that resulted stilted river access efforts for years to come.
“So, should we try?” I asked. “Of course,” said Robbi. And every step of the way, I’d look to her for help and affirmation we were headed in the right direction. After she reviewed the Spokane River Water Trail web site, she sent me an e-mail. “Wow Andy, so great to see the Water Trail Map. … I applaud you and give you many many thanks. Please keep up the good efforts. It is so appreciated!!!” From Robbi, it always meant the most because she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it.
The last time I say Robbi was at the convention center. We were drifting in and out to give our public opinion about the best design for the convention center expansion. It was obvious which the best design was if you want the public to be part of the scene and think convention goers would love the local color and a chance to be on the water.
“What do you think will happen?” asked Robbi. “I don’t know,” I said, “the PFD continues to send mixed signals even though it was promised when the public voted to approve the bond.”
“What do we need to do?”
“Get them to understand the river is more than eye candy. It’s there for everyone and they should embrace being part of it.”
“That we can do,” said Robbi with her husband Vic standing next to her with the warm smile of a man who knows what we all know. If Robbi says let’s do it, then let’s do it.
From the Spokane River Forum
Robbi Castleberry devoted her life to conservation around Spokane, WA and, in particular, Palisades Park. She is greatly missed and will long be remembered as we enjoy the park she preserved.
From the Spokesman Review
"If you enjoy the marvelous Centennial Trail, thank Robbi Castleberry.
Should you notice that homes do not line the Palisades and the Rimrock area – those basalt cliffs to the west of the Spokane River near Indian Canyon – and that is now an area for all to enjoy, tip your hat to Robbi Castleberry.
If the area in which we live that is so very, very rich in all things outdoors, is something you really appreciate, perhaps offer a prayer of thanks to Robbi Castleberry." Cheney Free Press 2013
Local trail angels: Vic and Robbi Castleberry
Spokesman: Outdoors SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 2013, 12:03 A.M.
CONSERVATION -- Robbi Castleberry, a pillar of Spokane-area conservation efforts since the 1970s, died today of an apparent cardiac arrest in her home near Indian Canyon, her husband, Vic, has confirmed.
Castleberry, 80, was on the original city-county committee that spearheaded development of the Spokane River Centennial Trail.
Her many conservation leadership roles include her current committee services for the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program. She's been the energizer behind the improvements and additions to the city's Palisades Park and the closure of Rimrock Drive so it could be enjoyed by walkers and bicyclists.
"Robbi was involved with groups like the Backcountry Horsemen and the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club, and when it came to issues such as trails and river access she could be counted on as an absolute driving force to keep them open for all users," said Julia McHugh, another original member of the Centennial Trail committee.
Robbi Castleberry: Palisades Steward
Vic and Robbi Castleberry have been stalwarts of Spokane land and river conservation for a half a century.
Perhaps none of their causes stands so tall for the public as Palisades Park. They are founding members of Palisades, the nonprofit group originating from the Indian Canyon-area neighborhood that organized to take care of the park.
They’ve wielded tools on the park’s trails and filled bags of garbage with the senseless litter. More important, even in their retirement, they’ve stepped up to be become familiar faces in offices and meeting rooms of city, county and state officials.
“You can’t be silent and expect somebody else to get things done,” Robbi said. Asked to single out their most important accomplishment for Palisades, she didn’t hesitate:
“Getting (the park segment of) Rimrock Drive closed to motor vehicles: It’s made all the difference in the world. It’s cleaned up the druggies, the litter and the vandalism and the number of people and families enjoying the park has increased. People feel safe in there walking, riding bikes and horses because gates keep out what comes with vehicles.”
The Castleberrys serve as role models from city hall to their back yard. While lobbying for expansion of public protected open space at Palisades, they also drew up a conservation easement 10 years ago that assures the 14 acres behind their home will remain open space forever.
A Life Well Lived: Happy Trails, Robbi Castleberry!
From Out There Monthly Posted by: Bea Lackaff in Columns, Last Page November 30, 2013
On June 11, 2013, a police officer was on the phone getting an earful why his force had better get out to Palisades Park on the double and attend to mischief, when suddenly the line went dead. The officer assumed it was a bad connection. It took time for him to realize that it wasn’t the line or the phone, but something worse. His caller was Robbi Castleberry, and she had passed away in mid-call. Robbi was 80 years-old, but she looked and lived much younger than her years. The shock of losing her is still being felt by those who knew her not just as a robust outdoors woman, but as a visionary leader and hard-working volunteer in the cause of protecting our natural lands and waterways. As the shock subsides, the breadth and consolation of Robbi’s legacy comes into focus in all the places that we and our children can still enjoy because of her commitment to preserving them.
Robbi’s legacy includes many vivid memories, some of which were shared at her July 11 memorial gathering. She and her husband Vic canoed the Spokane River every month of the year. An old friend recalled an especially wild descent through 8 Mile Canyon on the Priest River when “We thought we’d all die!” He also remembered Robbi as a “fantastic cook,” creating marvelous camp meals of “caribou, rabbits, or fish. Robbi always caught the biggest fish.”
The backcountry horse people told of prolonged horseback adventures with the Castleberry’s. One quoted Robbi as she rode off into a cold, mountain downpour. “Rain doesn’t hurt us…. Let’s do this again next year!” The Castleberry’s son- in-law cheerfully described Robbi swimming for her life in the St Joe River. On a slower day, she might move boulders around with a Bobcat, tend a horse’s wounds, or attack invasive weeds in her beloved Palisades Park.
Robbi left us a remarkable, tangible legacy of protected lands, rivers, and trails, including the Spokane River Water Trail. She also left a wake of functional outdoor organizations and wise judgments made by the regional land and river management agencies she served. She had a zeal to get other people outdoors to experience nature. This passion was typically generous, but also shrewd, as she knew that today’s casual hiker could well become tomorrow’s resolute outdoors advocate.
In the early 1960s, Robbi shared her love of skiing with her family, and went on to help form a ski club . Her friend Julia McHugh recalled in 1988 when Robbi busted into the Centennial Trail office saying: “Hey – what’s going on? How can I help?, “and soon became one of the first members of a City-County committee to get the trail built. Robbi was in on the beginning of the County’s Conservation Futures program by serving on the Lands Evaluation Committee. She was on the County Parks Board; was with Friends of the Falls and the Spokane River Forum; and helped start and preside over the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club. She was on the Recreational Lands Work Group in the AVISTA relicensing process .
When it came to neglect, litter, vandalism or abuse, Robbi was a fierce NIMBY. In the late 1960’s, the Castleberrys moved near Indian Canyon, adjacent to Palisades Park. Vic recalls that “The City didn’t even know it had a Park there, until we (neighbors) brought it to their attention.” Over the years the Castleberrys and their neighbors formed the Palisades Park Neighborhood Association. They became stewards – hauling trash, using forest and fire management consultants, forming work parties, closing roads and opening trails and increasing native species. Today Palisades Park offers maintained trails, a waterfall, stunning vistas, and an inviting website with opportunities to pitch in on a work party or chili-feed.
Robbi also left us with intangibles, such as a long lasting and far reaching vision for our community, rich with parks and natural areas, wild water ways, and trails and access to explore and connect them. Robbi well knew this vision can only be realized by the on-going, relentless efforts of everyone who loves the outdoors. So now, no excuses! By her very example, Robbi lead by example and left us a “how-to-manual” that is her life legacy: make the project perfectly clear, lead by working harder than anyone else, and delegate (most people who know Robbie are familiar with the expression ”I got volunteered by Robbi”). Make it always about “us” and always for the greater good.
Robbi had a holistic view. She was the “go-to” person, and could usually figure things out, but if she couldn’t find a creative solution, she would find someone who could. She was warm, and had the grace and wisdom to hear and appreciate everyone’s point of view. She could bring people around by offering a larger perspective, rather than confronting, or challenging them. She listened and smiled while taking it all in, connecting people and conspiring to do good, to make the world a better place. And most importantly, she taught us to get off our butts! Each person can make a heck of a difference!
Robbi left us all one more thing. Her last project was a vision of a West Plains Trail that would connect Riverside State Park, Palisades Park, Airway Heights, the Fish Lake Trail, and the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park system. As Robbi said so many times, “That’s a good idea. Let’s do it!”