Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Sierra Club is turning 130 and grappling with its history

The Sierra Club, founded in California, will turn 130 on Saturday, May 28. It is one of the oldest environmental nonprofits, but it struggles with its history.

The Sierra Club was founded on May 28, 1892, with John Muir as its first president. Its first order of business was to thwart a proposal to reduce the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.

Today the history of the Sierra Club is being redrawn. A note on the organization’s website says: “We are revising this section of our website, which presents the history of the Sierra Club in an insensitive and deprecated manner. We wish to engage more critically with our past.” and are in sync with the way racism, sexism and other systems of oppression have shaped our organization. Please check back soon for an updated page.”

The club that has 60 chapters nationwide (13 in California) and nearly 1.3 million members is re-evaluating its founder, the man known as the father of our national parks.

The Sierra Club issued a formal apology in July 2020 for racist remarks by Muir more than a century ago.

Then-executive director Michael Brune said it was “time to take down some of our own monuments” as statues of federal officials and colonists came down across the United States along with the country’s racist history.

“He made derogatory comments about black people and indigenous peoples that were based on deeply hurtful racist stereotypes, although his views developed later in his life,” Brun wrote on the group’s website. “As the most iconic figure in the history of the Sierra Club, Muir’s words and actions carry a particularly heavy weight. They continue to hurt and isolate indigenous peoples and people of color.”

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Muir was good friends with the founder of the American Eugenics Society and many of the early members of the Sierra Club were eugenicists, believing that the genetic composition of humans could be improved through controlled breeding of different races and classes of people.

Sierra Club, Muir Year

1900s: The club begins an organized program with annual visits to the Sierra Nevada. President Theodore Roosevelt visits Yosemite with Muir, and two years later, the club’s campaign to return management of Yosemite Valley from the state of California to the federal government is successful.

1910s: The National Park Service is created with the Sierra Club member, Stephen Mather, as its first director. The California Legislature passes a law to support the construction of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra Club is given four out of four stars by Charity Navigator, which investigates nonprofits. In 2021 the club got a score of 95.87 out of 100 possible points.

86.1 cents of every dollar given to the Sierra Club goes to the implementation of conservation programs.


people’s way?

There is a movement to rename the John Muir Trail. In 2018, seven indigenous women marched in the Sierra Nevada in an act of cultural reform. The route was used by tribes in the Sierra for centuries before Muir discovered it, and is known as Numu Poyo, or People’s Trail.

From north to south, the trail begins in the Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and winds up to Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the United States. The 221-mile trail ends at Whitney Portal near Lone Pine. Most of the trail is above 8,000 feet in designated forest. Starting in 1938, construction took 46 years to complete.

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Mapa lot has to change

Muir was born in Scotland on April 21, 1838. He entered the Yosemite Valley for the first time in 1868, and his writings about the area encouraged support for land conservation in California and the US.

Muir published six collections of writings while alive (four more were published posthumously).

Muir was married, had two daughters, and ran an orchard in Martinez, where his mansion is maintained by the Park Service.

At least one high school, 21 elementary schools, six secondary schools and one college are named after him, as well as a glacier, a mountain, a forest, a beach, a cabin, an entrance, a highway, a library, A motel, a medical center and a small planet.

Muir died in a Los Angeles hospital on Christmas Eve in 1914.

Muir’s profile—with long beard, brimped hat and walking stick, overlooking Yosemite’s Half Dome—was stamped on the California quarter of 2005 when the US Mint was producing a commemorative coin for each state.


If you’re looking to go hiking the trail, you’re not alone and you’ll need to plan in advance. Wilderness permits in the Sierra Nevada are under a quota system that prevents trail congestion and protects the environment. John Muir Trail Permits go quickly. Yosemite Wilderness Permit reservations are available 24 weeks (168 days) in advance. Read the John Muir Trail Permit page on the National Park Service’s Yosemite website.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Sierra Club, Pacific Crest Trail Association, National Park Service

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