After witnessing the many wildfires that occurred over the past summer, it’s hard not to think of them as extremely destructive. However, fires are misunderstood; they play an integral role in the unique ecosystems that California has to offer.
High up in the canopy of an old growth forest, there exists an extraordinary world hardly known to most of us on earth. For centuries, people have admired the sheer size of redwood trunks and appreciated the bounty of ferns and sorrel that carpet the forest floor. We have cherished the rare silence that envelopes the trees and relished in the beauty of sunlight filtering through the underside of the canopy. Yet, the intricate world at the top of the trees remained a mystery until the late twentieth century, with the advent of canopy exploration.
On August 8, 1919, Save the Redwoods League founders Madison Grant and Stephen Mather spoke to a packed auditorium in the Northern California mill town of Eureka. They had driven up from San Francisco, where the League had just held its first Board meeting, and they called for local support of the League’s mission to protect the redwoods. To their great surprise, they received a wildly enthusiastic response. Why were hundreds of citizens of Humboldt County, the epicenter of redwood logging operations, so receptive to this message of conservation?
What I hoped to gain from the recent Cultural Relevancy and Inclusion in Outdoor Organizations convening was a sense of togetherness on a topic that very few outdoor organizations and foundations are addressing in action. It is a complicated topic to wrap one’s brain around in reaching an action plan, I get it, but what is at stake is a country that will be majority people of color in 20 years, and if people of color are not developing relationships with the land now, we certainly won’t care about saving the redwoods or protecting endangered species as we grow into a majority status.
Within the span of a couple of years, Mather had helped found the National Park Service and Save the Redwoods League: two organizations that would go on to safeguard millions of acres in hundreds of parks. In spite of frequent poor health, Mather helped get both organizations off the ground by devoting huge amounts of his time, energy, and personal funds; even paying rangers’ salaries out of his own pocket.
John Muir, William Kent, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather. Many men with the same vision: To protect and preserve the natural beauty of this country so others might activate our curiosity, experience a sense of awe, and exercise our imaginations! No places accomplish that more than our many national parks.