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John Muir and the Sierra Club:
The Battle for Yosemite

by Holway R. Jones


( From the book's dust jacket. )

John Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite
by Holway R. Jones
1965
Sierra Club, San Francisco

When a battle has to be fought, an organization will usually have to be brought together to fight it, and one man will cast a shadow, or otherwise exert a profound influence, over the organization. To date, John Muir's shadow is seventy-three years long in the kind of battle Americans will need to fight recurrently.

When Congress set Yosemite Valley aside in 1864 as a park for the nation, a contest began between those who sought to preserve it for all and those who sought commercial advantage in it for themselves. Central to this contest were a man and an organization - John Muir and the Sierra Club he helped found in 1892, two years after the establishment of Yosemite National Park and its two million acres of High Sierra surrounding Yosemite Valley.

Some of the battles were won: the first attempt at a major cut back of the boundaries was staved off and the unification of Valley and Park under federal control was achieved. But the greatest battle was lost: Hetch Hetchy Valley, second only to Yosemite Valley itself, was dammed and flooded to supply power and water for San Francisco, even though a federal advisory board of Army Engineers had said that other sources were available, "sufficient in quantity,.... suitable in quality," their engineering problems "not insurmountable"; the determining factor was "principally one of cost."

What was the price of this particular scenic heritage for Americans? This was the question Muir and the Club tried to find an answer for, and in the years that followed, the Club was to continue to seek answers to the same question for other beautiful and threatened places. In Hetch Hetchy Muir and the club failed to persuade an administration committed to commodity use; the rift between the preservationists and the utilitarian resource managers was made clear.

The Sierra Club was established specifically to rally citizens who believed in the preservation of the High Sierra and who understood the need for eternal vigilance in its protection. The Club's vigorous beginnings with Muir and a devoted group of Bay Area professors and businessmen have been strengthened through the years by people in all walks of life all over the United States who believe that dynamic action will preserve some areas of superlative beauty.

Parts of this story of the background of the Sierra Club, of the accounts of the first stirring of the nation's conservation  conscience, read like some current paragraphs of the Congressional Record or the transcript of hearings on the damming of the Colorado River or the adequacy of the proposed boundaries for a redwood national park. The arguments for and against preservation are still the same; they have been heard and are heard over many years and in many places - in Dinosaur National Monument, on the Hudson and the Potomac, on the Olympic Strip, and along the Colorado River. The chief argument for preservation is that one generation cannot responsibly commit future generations to a world deprived of wildness, to a managed world where nature is to be observed only in plots, like specimen wild creatures in zoos. The chief argument for commercial development too often, is that it saves money. Alternatives which spare natural beauty will usually have a higher initial cost, but an affluent society, a Great Society, should be willing to pay it, for there is a perpetual return from the investment!

But the climate for these battles is not quite the same as it was when the Sierra Club began. The nation's once dimly aroused conservation conscience is now becoming more insistent as the acceleration of change makes inescapable an awareness of cause of change - man's overenamour of technology and reckless growth. Part of this new and more favorable climate for conservation is a heritage from Muir and his colleagues, whose foresight created the Sierra Club and whose commons sense kept it tough and viable. This is their story - the first chapter in a fight that has filled several chapters since then and will probably never quite end.

HOLWAY R. JONES, now Head Social Science Librarian at the University of Oregon, has been a devotee of Muir and the Sierra Club since his graduation from the University of California with an M.A. in history. Introduced to the Club through one of its trips in Dinosaur National Monument, his curiosity about its beginnings led him to research in Bancroft Library, the Club Archives, and other sources. The result is this book - the first full-length study of a chapter in the Club's history. Jones's interest in the Sierra Club has not been strictly historical, however. From 1955 to 1963, when employed as City and Regional Planning Librarian at the University of California, he also served as a member of the Club's Library and Conservation committees and as its first Associate Secretary. In Eugene, he is presently Secretary of the Pacific Northwest Chapter.

Holway Jones's enthusiasm for the mountains comes honestly. His grandfather, Edward W.D. Holway, was a member of the American Alpine Club and made a number of first ascents in the Canadian Selkirks, where the government named a prominent peak for him; his name is preserved also in the Onashees, where a peak bears the curious appellation, 'Holway's Penny." This mountain heritage continues: Jones is the father of two pre-teen boys who are eager, at every vacation, to experience wilderness and who love the West with a passion John Muir would understand.


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