Happy Birthday John Muir: Everything to Know About the ‘Father of National Parks’

by Madison Miller

John Muir, one of the “Founding Fathers” of the conservation movement, was born on April 21, 1838. Muir would have been 183-years-old today. But the Scottish nature lover passed away on December 24, 1914.

Muir was a naturalist, writer, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and an overall advocate for the start of conservation. He is most known for his work in establishing both Sequoia National Park as well as Yosemite National Park.

These remain two of the most popular breathtaking protected areas in California. Today is John Muir Day in California. His birthday also falls in the middle of National Park Week.

John Muir remains an iconic figure in American history and a source of inspiration for the world’s continuous conservation efforts. Similar to us here at Outsider, Muir’s love for the outdoors defined a great deal of his life.

Muir and Yosemite National Park

John Muir continues to be most associated with Yosemite National Park. He helped to draw up the proposed boundaries of the national park in 1889. From there, he wrote articles to spread awareness and eventually led to its creation in 1890.

Muir had the very first shelter at Yosemite National Park. A couple of yards away from the Yosemite Falls Trail sits a little log cabin.

The aged shelter gets few visitors, as a result, very few know exactly where it remains.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, there is no actual structure there anymore. However, due to his written records, we know that Muir’s cabin was once a one-bedroom made of pine and cedar that he built with Harry Randall. Apparently, Muir chose this spot because he loved the simple and soothing sound of moving water. He allowed plants to fester through the floorboards and would sleep with a sheepskin blanket.

John Muir lived in the small cabin for 11 months. He helped guide hotel guests on different hikes and would cut timber.

There is an iconic photo from 1903 that shows Muir alongside President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite National Park. They spoke about the area’s exploitation and Muir helped convince him that area needed to be monitored and controlled on a federal basis. The two camped together under the stars.

President Roosevelt started a huge conservation project during his presidency. Muir is also influential to the establishment of both Mount Rainer National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.

John Muir Co-Found the Sierra Club

Through his collection of essays and books, people continue their connection with the “Father of the National Parks.” His descriptive words and passionate activism have helped make the national parks what they are today.

He co-founded the Sierra Club. It remains one of the leading conservation groups. It has 50 chapters in the United States. Muir was the president of the organization for about 20 years until he passed away.

The Sierra Club is actually one of the first large-scale environmental preservation organizations to ever exist in the world.

The organization’s first act of business was to stop the Yosemite National Park from being reduced to half its original boundary size. During regular meetings, the group talked about establishing areas for “national forest reservations.” As a result, this concept would turn into National Forests, a widely common conservation title today.

Writing and More Conservation Work

According to Britannica, Muir helped with the federal government policy that helped start a forest conservation policy. This was back in 1876.

At the time, Muir was known, and continues to be known, for his captivating articles and books. He wrote in periodicals like the Atlantic Monthly, The Century Magazine, and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

This is where he spread discussion on land use and preservation. It was his writing that would help swing public opinion toward the congressional ruling of national forest reservations.

During his life, John Muir published six different volumes of writings. After his death, four more were published. His descriptive writings and love letters to the land helped create a desire to protect the natural world. It changed how Americans learned to look at the vast mountains, forests, and deserts surrounding them.

He had done a variety of field studies in the West during his life. From botanical studies to geological studies, Muir had added to the depth of growing knowledge. His books are a source of information and joy to current conversationalists. Some of his work includes “The Mountains of California,” “Our National Parks,” “The Yosemite,” “Travels in Alaska,” and “A Thousand-Mile Walk.”