Celia Hunter

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The first woman to head a national conservation association, conservationist Celia Hunter became president of The Wilderness Society in 1976.

Hunter’s work was essential to the wilderness movement.  She relentlessly pursued legislation to protect the land she loved and was responsible for passing legislation that protected over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska.  

Early life

Born in 1919 in Washington state, Celia Hunter grew up on a small farm during the Great Depression. She was raised as a Quaker and was instilled with values that gave her the confidence to take a path that was unconventional for a woman at the time.

An admirer of Amelia Earhart, Hunter decided to learn to fly after graduating high school. She became one of the Women Air Force Service Pilots in World War II. Since the army did not allow women to fly to Alaska, Hunter and her friend Ginny Wood flew to Fairbanks on their own, braving 27 days of bitter cold weather in rickety old planes. They eventually planned the first sightseeing trips in the area. 


In 1952, Hunter and Wood opened Camp Denali, a simple bed and breakfast coupled with outdoor activities along the boundary of Denali National Park. Camp Denali shared with visitors the wonders of the Alaskan wilderness. As Hunter’s business grew, so too did her appreciation for wilderness conservation. 

In 1960, Hunter founded the Alaska Conservation Society, which fought and won many of Alaska’s most important environmental battles. In 1969, Hunter accepted a position on the governing council of The Wilderness Society, where she eventually became president and then executive director. In 1980, Hunter helped found the Alaska Conservation Foundation (ACF), where she served on the board of trustees for over 18 years. 


In her lifetime, Hunter protected over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska. She received several prestigious awards, including the Robert Marshall Award, The Wilderness Society's highest honor.