In 1985, "Walkin'" Jim Stoltz teamed up with former Montana state legislator Paul Richards for a roadshow called the Wild West Exposition. Stoltz had already spent the last 15 years traveling across the United States singing songs like "It Ain't Easy Being an Ol' Grizzly Bear" and "These Are Ancient Forests" for school assemblies and benefits supporting wilderness policy and wildlife organizations. The Wild West Exposition was a way for the two activists to combine policy with entertainment.
"I laid out the political story for the show and Jim was the singer and multimedia specialist," says Richards. "The people I couldn't reach, Jim reached with his moving poetry and lyrics and photography."
Stoltz died on Friday, Sept. 3, in Helena at the age of 57 after a battle with tonsil cancer. For more than 35 years he traveled the United States, hiking more than 27,000 miles through wild country and penning several albums' worth of songs that revealed his passion for the natural world. Stoltz had strong ties to Montana: He spent 30 winter seasons working at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, where he drove winter sleighs for visitors and played music nightly.
In 2006, Stoltz organized a 45-state outreach tour with other musicians and authors to support clean water and public roadless wildlands policy. In reaction to the tour, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Stoltz an Outstanding Achievement Award for wilderness advocacy. His last show was in Missoula on March 6, 2010, when he played a benefit concert for the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign and Wilderness Watch.
Bill Worf, co-founder of Wilderness Watch, is a retried Forest Service employee who helped the agency implement the 1964 Wilderness Act. He says Stoltz made an impact on numerous policy advocates.
"What Walkin' Jim brought was as much credibility as anyone working with policy," Worf says. "He not only understood the policy and direction that Congress had intended, but he lived it and demonstrated it."
Wilderness Watch Executive Director George Nickas notes: "We will sorely miss him. Having spent most of his life traipsing through and fighting for America's Wilderness, I can't help but note that he left us on Sept. 3, the anniversary of the Wilderness Act."