Creighton Mattoon remembers when Turtle Bay Resort was nothing but a blueprint.

That was back in the 1970s, when the initial proposal to develop five hotels on the site prompted Mattoon and other North Shore residents to band together and stop the project.

“This was a concern of the people in the area — that such a massive development could not be supported by the infrastructure that we have out in this area, Koolauloa,” Mattoon said. “And it’s more than just Koolauloa. It’s Koolaupoko and Haleiwa. It’s a long stretch of land.”

That land extends between Kahaluu and Haleiwa — a fertile, beach-lined zone largely seen as the antithesis to urban Honolulu. Koolauloa and Koolaupoko are the two ahupuaa that make up the island’s north-east corridor.

Residents were worried that the mass development and accompanying population growth would strain available resources such as water, emergency services and schools.

So Mattoon and others met with then-University of Hawaii professor Walter Johnson to brainstorm what they could do to protect those areas. And that’s when they coined the phrase “Keep the Country Country.”

“Basically the idea is to protect the rural area that I described from massive urban invasion,” Mattoon said. “And it’s not just for the people who live out here — it’s for the whole island.”

Fast forward 30-plus years. Though Keep the Country Country is the name of a single organization, the phrase has now come to describe a collaborative grassroots initiative to resist a number of controversial development projects across the island. The term is seen on bumper stickers and hats, shirts and rubber slippers. In fact, “Keep the Country Country” is now registered with the sate Department of Consumer Affairs, according to Mattoon.

But it’s also a popular catchphrase with Honolulu mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell, who critics say was a key player in the very projects Keep the Country Country and its affiliates oppose.

Now the group wants Caldwell to stop using that phrase. Keep the Country Country last week sent out a press release asking that he drop the slogan from his campaign.