Take a look at this recent article published by the LA Times (Linked to here).

To briefly sum it up, a group of environmentalists are questioning whether John Muir’s ideas and conservationist mindset are relevant in today’s world. They imply that in this age of rapidly expanding populations, urban sprawl, and demographic changes, John Muir’s idea of maintaining undisturbed “pristine wilderness” simply doesn’t apply. Jon Christensen, a historian at UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability, says, “Muir’s a dead end, it’s time to bury his legacy and move on.” It is proposed in the article that, “Rather than accessing Muir’s beloved Sierra Mountains as backpackers, skiers or rock climbers, Californians would benefit more from the creation of urban parks, additional roads and trails in wild lands.” 

It’s hard to believe that an environmentalist could so easily discard Muir’s contributions and ideas, when they seem to apply more so now than ever. As urban centers encroach on our limited wilderness resources, shouldn’t we be taking the steps to conserve them as best we can? Introducing roads, and trails into this wilderness is like opening a door to the wilderness through which urban sprawl can enter and wreak havoc. Sure, I believe we as humans have a right to access this wilderness, but do we really need a red carpet leading us into the woods? Surely some of the joy of the wilderness comes from the challenge it presents, both in navigating to and through it.

The view from Muir Pass in the Sierra Nevada range.

Despite its short-sightedness, there are some good questions brought up in this article. As demographics change, and in turn the way in which people view nature changes, how can we assure that environmentalism and conservationism remain important to humans? Though I don’t think exploiting our wilderness areas is the answer to this, I do believe that urban parks and gardens may help. Giving people a way in which they can relate to nature and its importance creates a bond that can help to drive home the importance of this resource and protecting it.

As we approach the centennial of John Muir’s death on December 25th, 1914, it’s hard to imagine just where our wilderness would stand if not for Muir’s contributions. Let’s just hope our future environmentalists don’t forget them.


Not familiar with John Muir?

Check out these books for some great reading:

My First Summer in the Sierra

The Yosemite

Wilderness Essays