July 23, 2017

Ghosts and Giants in Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument is the embodiment of everything I love about America’s national parks. Donated to the federal government by William Kent, a California senator who once owned the land on which Muir Woods sits, Kent requested the property be instituted as a national park. His intent: to protect the old-growth coastal redwoods growing there. Kent’s request circumvented a developer’s attempt to invoke eminent domain laws to secure the land.

Why Muir Woods?

When President Roosevelt declared the spot a national monument in 1908, he suggested naming the park in Kent’s honor. Kent requested instead that the new monument recognize John Muir’s contributions to conservation.

If you know anything about the early American conservation movement, I don’t have to tell you who John Muir is. Born in Scotland in 1838, he became one of the most vocal and influential supporters of the conservation cause. Advocate, writer, poet, philosopher, nature lover, wanderer, and solo traveler, his writings and unique voice brought substance and sentiment to the concept that nature was worth preserving and gave rise to the belief in an ethics of the environment.

Cathedral Grove, Muir Woods National Monument

Cathedral Grove, Muir Woods National Monument

A Monument to Trees and Men

I believe in history, the power of the past, and the potential of the great things men can do. In Muir Woods National Monument, with its towering coastal redwoods as monuments to nature and the men and women of the conservation movement, you stand among ghosts and giants.

These coastal redwoods, ridged and ruddy and smelling of damp earth, represent more than a single species. They represent an idea and an ideal: that natural resources don’t only have value in their use but also in their existence. They recognize the contributions of men like Muir and Kent and also Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and a former governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot was one of the earliest advocates of conserving the resources of America’s forests. And Elizabeth Thatcher Kent, frequently mentioned alongside her husband William as a patron of the park.

There’s a famous photo of John Muir with his palm laid against the bark of a coastal redwood tree. That very tree was eventually appointed in memory of William Kent’s contribution. However, buffeted by coastal storms and the ravages of time, the tree has since toppled.  It remains where it fell as a monument to the Kents’ foresight. I have touched that tree with my own palm, reaching into the past in agreement to continue the legacy to protect these special places.

William Kent tree

William Kent tree plaque

Touching the William Kent tree

Touching the William Kent tree

Want to show your support for national parks? Donate to the National Park Foundation or volunteer with the National Park Service.

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