The CSGN, supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, is developing proposals to extend by 2014 the existing John Muir Way which currently runs from Dunbar to Fisherrow in Musselburgh through to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park-Scotland’s first national park and over to Helensburgh. Studies have shown that such a route will prove attractive not only to native Scots but to many abroad, not only in the United States but around the globe where Muir’s name resonates loudly. The economic benefit study shows that with appropriate marketing some 700 jobs could be created over the first five years of the route’s existence with an estimated 9,000 end to end walkers in the first year.
2014 promises to be a busy year; the constitutional referendum, Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup amongst other events.
2014 is also the centenary of John Muir’s death. He died in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1914, his hospital bed covered with manuscript pages from a book he was preparing.
The New York Times described him as “one of the greatest thinkers of America” and added “Some inkling of the man’s greatness and versatility can be gleaned from a glance at the names of the lasting friends he made among the great men of the country. The most intimate of these included several Presidents, among them Taft, Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson”.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that hundreds attended his funeral in Martinez.
One of Muir’s biographers, Steven J Holmes argued that Muir has become “one of the patron saints of 20th century American environmental activity”.
Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesperson and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for countless individuals.
He was also a mountaineer, a geologist, a naturalist, an explorer, an inventor, a glaciologist and of course a conservationist but he said of himself, “I could have become a millionaire but chose instead to become a tramp”.
In 1892 he founded the Sierra Club and became its first President, a position he held until his death. The Sierra Club now enjoys a membership of some 750,000 and has spawned similar bodies such as Friends of the Earth.
Another of Muir’s biographers, Donald Worster said that Muir understood his mission to be “saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism”
His death coincided with the early months of the First World War and for obvious reasons his passing largely went unnoticed in his native country and as a result Scotland was slow to recognise his achievements. As late as 1978 the National Library had none of his books on their shelves.
Thankfully due to the efforts of East Lothian Council, the John Muir Trust and a handful of dedicated individuals who understood that Muir’s message is as relevant now as it was in the 19th century, his name and works have been kept alive and more Scots now understand his legacy. The excellent John Muir Birthplace Trust Museum in Dunbar, for example, has just welcomed its 100,000 visitor.
Plans are now being developed to ensure that the opportunity of the centenary of his death is maximised. East Lothian Council and their partners are developing proposals that include establishing a John Muir Day to take place on his birthday April 21st; California already celebrates their own John Muir Day on that date.
SNH and local authority partners will be working hard to ensure that this new extended John Muir path is open for business in time for 2014 as CSGN’s contribution to the celebrations. We hope Muir’s vision will be kept alive in the hearts and minds of those who will walk the route.
Keith Geddes, Chair, Central Scotland Green Network Partnership Board