Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Sierra Club And Environmentalism Part I

Dale Matson

Would The Sierra Club Allow The John Muir Trail To Be Built Today?

Muir Hut at Muir Pass JMT

I have been an outdoorsman most of my life. My family had a cabin near Gould City in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My dad, brother and I used to fish some of the local lakes and streams. It would bother me when I would see beer bottles and various other forms of trash in the otherwise pristine streams and lakes. We also had a lake home on Tipsico Lake in Lower Michigan where I spent 20 summers. Our boat was a canoe.

At one time I considered joining the Sierra Club even though I knew nothing of the Sierras or the club’s founder, John Muir. I had planned on becoming a conservation officer after high school and was a member of the Forestry Club in high school. I twice attended the Michigan United Conservation Club Camp near Baldwin Michigan.

Much of my later professional life was spent outdoors as a plumber, arborist, heavy equipment operator and landscape maintenance foreman. During this time I designed and built an earth sheltered passive solar home. I was also a trail runner and ran the Ice Age trails in the Southern Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin that was named after John Muir.

How ironic that I would eventually wind up hiking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I wrote a book about it called, A Pilgrim’s Progress And The John Muir Trail. As an ultra runner, I have run many of the trails in Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks. In later years I backpacked much of Kings Canyon National Park and have been a civilian volunteer for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Team. I have written books about this also.

I have also had an opportunity to meet John Muir through his writings and understand his love for the wilderness and mountains. I have always seen him as a kind of priest of the wilderness. There were many others during the same era that encouraged folks to partake of the healing balm of wilderness experiences. Men like LeConte, Mather, Pinchot and Solomons helped make it happen. It was a dream of Solomons that helped make the John Muir Trail a reality. Much of this wilderness is just east of my home in Fresno California.

While few would argue against calling these men environmentalists, it must be said that they were also humanists in the sense that their stewardship and preservation of these wilderness areas was for the enjoyment of future generations of people. These areas were not being set aside as animal preserves as much as they were set aside as places for people. I believe they were advocates for humans interfacing with the environment. There was a kind of evangelical zeal about this and an environmental advocacy that led to land being set aside in perpetuity for this purpose. This was a right and noble use of political influence on governmental policy, funding and oversight.

In the 21st century, things are changing regarding environmentalism and advocacy. I am becoming increasingly aware of a kind of activism that is not pro environment as much as it is anti people. Others are noting this too. Ken Murray MD, a member of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew made the following comment: This trend represents the ongoing loss of national resources — our trails and the access they provide. And these losses seem to be happening without public awareness or debate. Yes, there are some people who believe that wilderness areas are better off without trails or the ability of people to access them; they want the land kept pure and believe that the harder it is to get into the forests, the better. They hold as their scripture the 1964 Federal Wilderness Act, which designates areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” I read the Wilderness Act differently, since it also speaks of wilderness lands being preserved “for the people,” as places where “man himself is a visitor.”

The first part of this essay was to provide a sense of who I am and some of my experiences as an outdoorsman. I do care about the wilderness and consider myself an environmentalist. I will conclude part one of this essay with a simple question. Would the Sierra Club allow the John Muir Trail to be built today?

Part II is here:

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