Kirby Billingsley, Mr. Columbia River

Kirby Billingsley moved to Central Washington when he was 3 years old and grew to be one of the most dedicated champions of the river and its people.

Billingsley worked first as a newspaper reporter and editor in The Wenatchee Daily World campaign for Grand Coulee Dam and development of the Columbia. He was also a commissioner for Chelan County Public Utility District from 1945 to 1953, when he became general manager of the utility until 1968. He served again as a PUD commissioner from 1970 to 1976.

Billingsley envisioned a river with local control, public access, environmental stewardship and a multi-use approach to this great resource. His achievements include his pivotal involvement in public power in the region, the funding and construction of Rocky Reach Dam, and the creation of Chelan County PUD’s parks system. His spirit of friendship, his love of people and the river and his tireless efforts endeared him to those he met, and helped convert others to the dream.

Billingsley’s support of public power was felt nationwide. He was a director and president of the American Public Power Association as well as a director of the Washington Public Power Supply System and the Northwest Public Power Association.

Billingsley had a vision of parks lining the Columbia River so that everyone could enjoy the power of nature and recreation, as well as the power of electricity. He helped convince Congress of the importance of public access to the river, and Congress responded by including requirements for parks in federal dam licenses.

Billingsley died in 1993 at the age of 89. His legacy includes 14 parks constructed by Chelan County PUD to provide endless access for all to the waters he loved. The Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park was dedicated to his memory in 2008.