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Saturday, June 7, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ira Spring, 1918 - 2003: Photographer tried to preserve nature

Seattle Times staff reporter

More than almost anyone, Ira Spring saw some of the best Washington state has to offer.

He hiked and cataloged hundreds of miles of hiking trails, climbed Mount Rainier a dozen times and shared his experiences through photographs in dozens of hiking guides. Millions of people saw his photographs in the guides, The Seattle Times, national magazines, even ads for the likes of Rainier beer.

Ultimately, he hoped that guiding people to the beauty of the Northwest's wilds would encourage their preservation.

"Maybe it was the photographer in him," said Elizabeth Lunney, executive director of the Washington Trails Association, which Mr. Spring helped create. "He was able to hone in on the things that would make an experience special. Maybe it was a viewpoint or a particular field of flowers, the details that would make a hike worth doing."

"He just wanted people to know what was out there, what trails and where," said Patricia Spring, his wife of 54 years. "He just liked to see people get out and enjoy the Northwest."

Mr. Spring died in his Edmonds home Thursday after a two-year bout with prostate cancer. He was 84.

He had been hiking since the 1920s and went on his first backcountry excursion, a trip with his father to High Divide above the North Fork of the Nooksack River, at the age of 11.

A year later, he and his twin brother, Bob, got Brownie cameras as part of an Eastman Kodak promotional campaign. The two went on to work as a team, combining a love of mountains and photography to publish pictures in Look, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, Esquire and The Seattle Times.

When his brother branched into travel photography in the '60s, Mr. Spring, writer Louise B. Marshall and fellow members of The Mountaineers, the Seattle-based outdoors club, produced "100 Hikes in Western Washington."

They figured the first printing of 5,000 copies would last "a couple years," Mr. Spring once recalled. "They sold out in three weeks. We printed 5,000 more and they sold out by September. We printed 5,000 more and they were gone by Christmastime."

The book, the Northwest's first hiking guide, helped to launch an independent Mountaineers publishing house, now with hundreds of titles. It also led Mr. Spring and writer Harvey Manning to collaborate on more than 20 other guides, including the "100 Hikes" and "Footsore" series.

"Ira's the soul, the driving force behind the guidebooks," Manning once told The Times. "He takes care of all of the details and does about two-thirds of the work. He's got a photographer's eye and he sees details other people miss. But wow, he's a bad speller."

The two friends and long-time collaborators had a falling out last summer. Manning was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Spring's photos over the years helped fuel numerous conservation and wilderness-preservation efforts. He personally lobbied the state's congressional delegation for passage of the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984, which preserved 1 million acres, and his honors included the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award, given to him by President George Bush in 1992.

He often referred to "green bonding," introducing people to wilderness settings with an eye toward encouraging preservation.

"He was a visionary in a lot of ways," said Helen Cherullo, Mountaineer Books publisher. "He was very insistent and particular about the idea that people needed get out on the trail and see what was out there in order to invest themselves in protecting it."

"If we don't get lots of people showing support for wilderness, we're going to lose it," he said in 1998, upon the publication of "100 Classic Hikes in Washington."

"The population is changing," he said. "People are spreading out farther and farther. There's a lot of pressure in Washington, D.C., to decommission wilderness land and use it for other things. Money has a lot of influence in political circles. But so do letters. People need to write, not just send an e-mail. Letters get people's attention."

In 2000, he helped start The Spring Family Trust for Trails, a nonprofit trail-maintenance fund. The Springs donated their Social Security income and all proceeds from his books to the fund.

In addition to his wife and his brother, Bob, of Bellingham, Mr. Spring is survived by two children, John Spring of Seattle and Vicky Spring of Edmonds.

A private funeral is planned. Donations may be made to The Spring Family Trust for Trails, 18809 Olympic View Drive, Edmonds, WA 98020. Or online: www.springtrailtrust.org

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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