‘He was married to his world.’ Scott Mathes, an environmentalist who headed wilderness cleanups, dies at 62

Scott Mathes stands on top of car dumped into Balcolm Canyon.
Scott Mathes, Executive Director of California Environmental Project, in 1996 stands on top of car dumped into Balcolm Canyon. He died at the age of 62 after a long illness.
(Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

Scott Mathes, an environmentalist who organized cleanup projects to haul tons of trash out of canyons and wilderness areas in Southern California, died Sept. 6 in Bend, Ore., after a long illness. He was 62 years old.

“Until the very end he was still involved in trying to save the planet,” Jeff Mathes, 63, said about his younger brother. “He was never married, he didn’t have any children. He was married to his world.”

A longtime Los Angeles resident, Mathes was born in St. Louis and dropped out of high school in 1979 to hike the John Muir Trail between Mt. Whitney and Yosemite in California. It was during that trip that he realized how many areas were trashed by illegal dumping.


As a child, Mathes used to pick up the trash he found during canoe trips down the rivers in Missouri.

“Our canoes would be full of garbage by the end of the trip,” Mathes told The Times in a January 1991 interview.

Now that the record snowpack has melted, popular trails — including portions of the Pacific Crest and John Muir — are more accessible than they’ve been all year.

Sept. 11, 2023

Mathes and his friend Mary Jane Parks created the California Environmental Project in 1989 to organize cleanups in natural habitats. The group launched a cleanup effort of the Malibu Canyon in March 1989 and coordinated more cleanups around Southern California.

“In the last year I’ve seen areas I thought would never get clean and are clean now,” Mathes said at the time.

The group launched the Adopt-a-Canyon program in 1992 to encourage removing trash from canyons and natural habitats across California. The program encouraged donors to provide labor for cleanups and money to adopt 49 canyons across the region.


One of the donors was the actress and singer Bette Midler, a friend of Mathes’. He later helped spearhead the New York Restoration Project, which is currently being led by Midler.

Mathes also worked as a consultant for the California Conservation Corps, a voluntary work development program for environmental conservation. Mathes supervised work crews and helped map out areas that needed to be cleaned up.

Mathes is survived by his brother, Jeff, and two nephews Kyle and Ryan and proceeded in death by his parents Jack and Suzanne Mathes.

Mathes was also a musician, guitarist and songwriter and loved incorporating nature into his paintings.