Today marks the birthday (1839) of the great American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir. Through his personal efforts and the movements he supported with such fervor - he founded the Sierra Club - we can enjoy the spectacular wildness that is Yosemite National Park. His efforts also help establish the national park movement that today provides us with more than 400 units administered by the National Park Service. And modeled after the national park idea, there are more than 6500 state parks and thousands of local parks and preserves to enjoy. Although Muir focused on the preservation of wilderness his work provided a structure for cultural resource preservation and management. That movement originated largely with Civil War commemorations late in the 19th century and accelerated through the benevolence of industrialist including Henry Ford (The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village) and John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Colonial Williamsburg).
|John Muir, seated, reading a book ca. 1912 May 29|
Muir was a wanderer both physically and emotionally building upon his studies in botany and geology as he traveled. In 1868 he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time and soon realized he had found his calling in the world of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is how he described the revelation in his autobiographical notebook:
There are eight members in our family....All are useful members of society - save me. One is a healer of the sick. Another, a merchant, and a deacon in good standing. The rest school teachers and farmers' wives - all exemplary, stable, anti-revolutionary. Surely then, I thought, one may be spared for so fine an experiment.
. . .
... the remnants of compunction - the struggle covering the serious business of settling down -gradually wasted and melted, and at length left me wholly free - born again! I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot...As long as I live, I'll hear the waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.
Muir lived to see the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890 and the consolidation of control of the park - California had retained management of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove in 1906 - by the federal government in 1906. Two years following his death in 1914 Congress created the National Park Service to manage the preservation and use of the growing number of natural areas under federal jurisdictions.
To learn more about John Muir. Visit the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club website. Yosemite National Park also has a fine tribute to Muir at this link.
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