John Frederick, the ‘Mayor of Polebridge’ dies

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John Frederick

John Frederick, a North Fork icon, died Nov. 15 after a long illness. He was 74.

Frederick, who was often referred to as the “Mayor of Polebridge” was one of the founding members of the North Fork Preservation Association in 1982. The association opposed the paving of the North Fork Road and promoted protection of the North Fork of the Flathead River from proposed coal mining operations in the Canada, a fight that lasted decades. He served as president for more than 30 years.

Frederick was an environmental advocate from an early age. In a 2001 Hungry Horse News interview, he recalled starting a group as a young man in his native Ohio called the “Waste Watchers.”

Longtime friend Larry Wilson had fond remembrance of Frederick, even though the two rarely agreed.

Frederick moved to Montana in 1976 and to Polebridge in 1978. Wilson said Frederick barely knew him, but he asked him to be the best man at his wedding.

Wilson declined, but Frederick paid $20 so Wilson could be ordained by the Universal Life Church and Wilson performed the marriage ceremony.

Wilson said Frederick was an environmentalist, but also a practical guy. While others would get mad, the affable Frederick would keep talking, hammering home his points. They rode to a lot of meetings together. On one memorable trip, they went to a Forest Service planning meeting in Kalispell. They argued the whole time through the meeting. The Forest Service told them they didn’t have to sit next to each other if they didn’t want to.

“I have to keep him close,” Frederick replied. “He’s my ride home.”

While they disagreed on many land management issues, Wilson said, it was never personal.

“We never agreed on much, but we kept listening to each other,” Wilson said. “He was totally honest with his feelings.”

Friend Frank Vitale had fond memories of Frederick. When Frederick was ailing in the final days, Vitale told him he was going elk hunting.

Frederick just looked at him and gave him an approving wink of an eye.

“He was such a dynamic person and had such a big footprint,” Vitale said. Frederick married Vitale and his wife, author Ellen Horowitz, in 1980. It was Frederick’s first wedding ceremony.

“It was my first marriage ceremony and they’re still together,” Frederick would say with a laugh.

The two took many trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness over the years, but one of the most memorable journeys was just a few years ago, Vitale said. Frederick, who had bad arthritis went with Wilson, Vitale and Bob Brown up Mount Thompson Seton. They were trying to convince Wilson that the upper North Fork deserved wilderness protection.

When they got down, Wilson had softened stance, Vitale said.

“John wanted to be a part of that,” Vitale noted. What better place to debate wilderness than on the top of a mountain, Vitale noted.

Frederick bought what was to become the North Fork Hostel in 1978 and ran it for nearly 30 years, providing lodging for weary travelers from across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Frederick was well known for taking environmental causes head on.

He was a vocal opponent of proposed coal mining in the Canadian Flathead. During the battle over the Cabin Creek coal mine proposal, Frederick bought 10 shares of Rio Algam stock. He traveled to Toronto six times to protest the mine at the annual stockholders meeting. At first, Wilson recalled, the company said he didn’t own enough shares to speak at their annual shareholders meeting, so he bought enough shares until he could.

His action generated national awareness of the issue in Canada and helped in getting the International Boundary Commission involved, an action that eventually led to Rio Algam losing interest in the project.

More recently he was a board member of Headwaters Montana, a local environmental group. He was involved in supporting the goals of the Whitefish Range Partnership, a group of stakeholders that have been examining land use issues in the North Fork.

He also supported expansion of Waterton National Park into the Canadian side of the North Fork, as well as new wilderness areas on the U.S. side of the border.

In 2014, he received the Flathead Audubon Society Conservation Achievement Recognition award for his conservation efforts.

From 1983-1985, Frederick wrote a weekly column about North Fork happenings in the Hungry Horse News.

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