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.
Robbie 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!”