Bay Area company working to preserve John Muir's home

August 13, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
John Muir is one of the country's best known conservationists. But what you may not know is that he launched his preservation campaign from the Bay Area. Now, a local company is preserving his home for future generations, and they are using a high-tech method to do it.

It was from a house in Martinez that Muir wrote about the natural beauty of the west. His writings would ultimately inspire the creation of the national park system.

"He wasn't just this person who was walking in the wilderness with his tea and his little pieces of bread, but he actually led a really rich life and had a rich family life and this is where it was all based out of," National Park Service Deputy Superintendent Sue Fritzke said.

Muir's house was built in 1883 and is now a national historic site open to the public. Its colorful rooms paint a picture of a privileged life.

"It doesn't speak to John Muir when you walk in here; this is not what people imagine," Fritzke said.

If an earthquake or fire were to take the house down, that perspective would be lost forever.

"There's always a risk of having things, you know, having something happening to a feature like this," Fritzke said.

The National Park Service has teamed up with Oakland-based non-profit Cyark to make a 3D model of the Muir house. They use a laser scanner actually developed for oil and gas exploration.

"What the laser scanner does, is shoot a pulse of light at the structure behind us and that and that light will bounce back and create a point in space," Scott Lee, of Cyark, explained.

Millions of those pulses of light will record the depth and color of every room in the Muir house -- a comprehensive record of every nook and cranny.

"We're capturing points every three to five millimeters," Lee said.

Those points are meshed with photos taken with a still camera. The results are three-dimensional images of the Muir house.

The Muir house project is part of Cyark's mission to document 500 cultural heritage sites in five years. They've already completed more than 100 around the world.

This is just the first part of the Muir project.

"John Muir is generally better known in America, particularly in California, less well known in the land of his birth, which is in Scotland," Scottish National Heritage spokesperson Richard Davidson said.

Muir's home was in Dunbar, Scotland. He moved with his family to the United States when he was just 11 years old. The Scottish equivalent of our national park service has preserved his childhood home, and is also working with Cyark to make a 3D rendering of it, and the surrounding neighborhood.

"Next year, when this project is finished, people visiting the house here, will be able to find out a lot more about where he grew up in Dunbar, Scotland, and hopefully build a much better, clearer picture of who John Muir was," Davidson said.

Scottish park officials are hoping the 3D model will also boost tourism, by encouraging people to visit Muir's birthplace. It will be on display at the Martinez home.


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