Katie was raised in Tucson Arizona. She spoke fondly of the impact of tramping around and hiking Sabino Canyon. In 1943 she attended the University of Arizona and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and drama. Katie left Arizona to pursue careers and acting and folk singing. She frequently returned to enjoy the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, and most importantly Glen Canyon. Katie considered Glen Canyon and the Colorado River to be her lifeblood, a place where she could re-energize herself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Katie wrote several songs and books about these experiences. When the United States of Bureau of Reclamation announced its plans to dam the Colorado River and flood Glen Canyon Katie fought for several years to prevent Glen Canyon from being damned and flooded. She was not successful, she considered the damning of Glen Canyon to be her greatest failure.
Katie never stopped advocating for the protection of rivers, canyons, and wild spaces. She spent the next 51 years using her music, writing and influence to raise awareness of the preservation of natural places. The loss of Glen Canyon served as a painful example of how something so fragile and beautiful could be destroyed in the name of progress. Katie encouraged people to fight for the things and places they loved. She fought like a warrior.
Katie Lee was recognized for numerous achievements. In the 40’s and 50’s she was an actress in popular movies, in the 50’s and 60’s she transitioned to becoming a folk singer/song writer, river runner and in the 1970’s until the end of her life she was an author of non-fiction and fiction.
Even after her passing she continues to inspire a new generation of environmental activists with her archival legacy housed in the Cline Library on the campus of Northern Arizona University.
Environmental activist and writer, Craig Childs gave tribute to Katie Lee. “Katie speaks for the canyons and the sweet desert recesses. She is our foul mouthed, lightning eyed, boot-stomping balladeer, a character Louis L’Amour never could have invented. Born of the rock itself, she is a lifetime of experience on this wild, restless cradling ground. If you want to know this place, you need to know Katie. Katie’s life and achievements are very much a part of this “wild, restless, cradling ground and the culture, historical and natural landscape known as Arizona.