by Ben Long

Richard A. Kuhl – a man with a long stride and longer vision – died on March 17. A wilderness ranger, educator and conservationist, Kuhl left his campsites and community better than he found them.

Richard was born in 1938 in rural New Jersey. After college and the military, he traveled North America by Greyhound bus and foot. He worked for the Forest Service building trail and fighting wildland fires. He spent time in the Kootenai National Forest and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and developed an enduring love and commitment to wilderness.  In 1966, he backpacked the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine).

Richard was often seen marching across Kalispell on his way to and from conservation meetings or his job as a math tutor at Flathead High School. To me, Richard embodied the essay Walking in which Henry David Thoreau describes walking outdoors as a mediational and intellectual pursuit benefiting mind and body alike.

Richard was introspective and cerebral but also drawn to working with others, particularly helping young folks or for a cause. He ran for the Montana Legislature twice, a Democrat who ran close races in part of the state that leaned heavily Republican. He served on the boards of the local chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association, Flathead Audubon and Flathead Land Trust. He spearheaded Friends of Lawrence Park in Kalispell, which transformed a neglected gravel pit and dumping grounds into one of the flagship city parks in Montana. He was recognized with a “Golden Glove” award from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for his hand-to-hand combat against knapweed at Lone Pine State Park. He served on Friends of the Flathead County Library.

Richard served as a very active member of the Flathead Audubon Board from 2008-15 and was Co-Chair of the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area Committee for four of those years. Physically strong and skilled, he enjoyed hard work at OSNA, clearing trails, bucking and hauling away downed trees, mending fence, posting signs and pulling weeds.

Richard and Marylane Pannell were married in 1980 and lived in Kalispell. Richard continued to work as a wilderness ranger at the Moose Creek Ranger Station in the Selway-Bitterroot from late spring into the fall. Kendra and Walker were born in 1981 and 1983. The family spent their first summers in the wilderness at Moose Creek and Fish Lake Ranger Stations, 20 miles from the nearest road.

Richard was preceded in death by his son Walker Pannell Kuhl. He is survived by Marylane Pannell, daughter Kendra Pannell Kuhl (Luke Oltrogge), grandchildren Clara and Connelly Pannell Oltrogge. He is also survived by many grateful friends and neighbors, myself included.