In memoriam: Bill Clapp worked to protect the St. Croix for future generations

Lifelong river steward grew up loving the St. Croix and worked so it would simply ‘stay the same.’




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Bill Clapp on the banks of the St. Croix River in 2017. (Photo courtesy Merritt Clapp-Smith)

Bill Clapp passed away this month, and is being remembered for his love of the St. Croix and dedication to protecting the river. He spent his whole life enjoying it from family cabins in Copas, and almost 50 years of his life serving as its steward.

Not only was he an environmental attorney who worked to defend natural resources in court, but Clapp helped found Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy, which has protected more than 1,500 acres along the river in Wisconsin, contributed pro bono legal counsel to environmental organizations, served on the board of directors of the St. Croix River Association, and much more.

“He just really wanted the river to stay the same — to not allow even one little variance that could start to degrade the natural resource,” his daughter Katie Clapp told Mary Divine of the Pioneer Press in this remembrance:

After rising through the ranks at Weyerhaeuser Co. for more than 15 years, A. W. “Bill” Clapp wanted a career change.

He took the Strong Interest Inventory to assess his occupational interests, and the results were striking. His top two interests? Forest ranger and lawyer.

“He wasn’t happy being a businessman, so he decided to go back and get his law degree and specialize in environmental law,” said daughter Merritt Clapp-Smith of St. Paul.

Clapp graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1973 and went to work for the Minnesota attorney general’s office, specializing in laws protecting wetlands and water.

Clapp, of St. Paul, died Aug. 18 after suffering a stroke at his cabin on the St. Croix River, three miles upstream from Marine on St. Croix. He was 87.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale said Clapp was instrumental in helping protect the St. Croix River from development. Mondale, a longtime friend, worked to have the St. Croix River designated in 1968 as one of the nation’s first Wild and Scenic Rivers.

“For pretty close to 50 years, I watched Bill work to protect the river,” Mondale said. “He was an old friend. It’s a big loss. He was a principal player on the St. Croix River for as long as I can remember.”

Clapp served as president of the St. Croix River Association from 2003 to 2005 and helped guide the organization from a volunteer group to an official nonprofit organization. He served on the board in many capacities, ending his tenure as board secretary in 2014.

“He was a wonderful river steward, and a man that cannot be replaced,” said Deb Ryun, the association’s executive director. “We benefited from his intelligence and legal savvy, his direct manner, and, most importantly, his deep love and commitment to the St. Croix. We have lost one of the big river champions.”

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Clapp is survived by his wife of 54 years, Sharon, five daughters, Nancy (Reid) Hardenbergh, Ginny (Bill) Buell, Becky (Jon) Haven, Katie Clapp (Mark Ward), Merritt (Craig) Clapp-Smith, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

The family is requesting that instead of flowers, donations can be made to the St. Croix River Association, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, and the Minnesota Land Trust, or an environmental cause of your choice.

A celebration of Clapp’s life will be held 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at the University Club in St. Paul.


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In memoriam: Bill Clapp worked to protect the St. Croix for future generations