(1838-1914), American naturalist, explorer, and writer. He was an influential conservationist, who worked to preserve wilderness areas and wildlife from commercial exploitation and destruction. His efforts helped to establish Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, both in California. Many natural sites have been named in his honor, including Muir Woods National Monument, a virgin stand of redwoods, near San Francisco, California.
Muir was born in Scotland in 1838. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old and settled on a farm near Portage, Wisconsin. Muir attended the University of Wisconsin from 1860 to 1863 but did not graduate. When he left college, he took extensive walking trips to study nature, especially plants. In 1867 he made a walking trip from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico to observe the plants, animals, and physical features of the country. During this trip Muir kept extensive journals, which were published after his death as A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916).
In 1868 Muir went to Yosemite Valley in California and explored and studied the area for the next six years. He was the first to conceive the theory that the Yosemite Valley was formed by glacial erosion. During this time he also studied glaciers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 1879, while exploring Glacier Bay, Alaska, he sighted the glacier that now bears his name, the Muir Glacier.
In 1880 Muir married and settled on a fruit ranch in Martinez, California. During the next ten years, he became a noted and financially successful horticulturist. In 1891 he resumed his travels. He had become interested in the study of trees, especially pines and sequoias, and went to Australia, Africa, Europe, and South America to visit the forests. As a result of his studies, Muir became a strong proponent of the need to preserve nature for its own sake. He argued forcefully that people should defend species and wilderness areas from devastation by humans.
In 1889 he initiated a movement to preserve the sequoias in the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area. In 1890 his efforts led Congress to establish Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. In 1892 Muir and some of his supporters founded the Sierra Club, dedicated to the exploration and preservation of American wildlife and wilderness. He also influenced President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside national monuments, national forest reserves, and national parks.
However, Roosevelt did not support Muir’s efforts to block the building of the Hetch Hetchy Dam, a project designed to bring water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to San Francisco. The proposed dam would flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley, in the northern part of Yosemite National Park. Muir passionately opposed the dam, arguing that flooding the valley would destroy a valuable natural area. His efforts, however, were not successful, and President Woodrow Wilson authorized the building of the dam in 1913. Muir died the next year.
In recognition of Muir's efforts as a conservationist and crusader for national parks, Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908. Muir’s home in Martinez, California, along with his gravesite and part of his fruit orchard, were designated the John Muir National Historic Site in 1964. Muir wrote many books and articles, including The Mountains of California (1894), Our National Parks (1901), My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), The Yosemite (1912), and Travels in Alaska (1915).
"Muir, John," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
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