Berkeley team traces famed environmentalist John Muir's travels

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There is a detective story unfolding at the University of California where researchers are tracing the travels of John Muir, one of the most famous environmentalists in history revealing what he brought back to the Bay Area. (KGO-TV)

There is a detective story unfolding at the University of California where researchers are tracing the travels of John Muir, one of the most famous environmentalists in history revealing what he brought back to the Bay Area.

Whether touring with Teddy Roosevelt, or fighting for national parks, Muir is revered as a champion of the outdoors. But it turns out the famed environmentalist wasn't just defending nature, he was also collecting it. "Muir I think first and foremost was a botanist and a scientist," said Nate Tusa of the National Park Service.

Tusa is a guide and expert at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez. It was Muir's home in his later years where he would return with plant samples from his treks across the wilderness, sketching, studying, and organizing the collection in his delightfully disheveled scribble den. "To write down everything that he did, so that way he could tell the broader public about all these natural wonders," said Tusa.

But while he was passionate about collecting, cataloguing was a different story.

Andrew Doran of the Jepson Herbaria at the University Of California, which recently took possession of the plant samples. "A lot of our collections are from Yosemite, sometimes, unfortunately he puts Sierra Nevada on his labels," said Doran.

Doran says the original cataloguing project has now morphed into something of a detective story. Researchers plan to pour through Muir's personal journals and letters comparing dates and matching locations, all with the goal of learning where Muir was and who he was with when he collected each plant sample. "He is writing various plants that he's encountering. We can actually join the dots where John Muir wasn't really known for making very detailed collection information, but he was noting down where he was in his journals," said Doran.

Researchers are also photographing and digitizing the samples to make the collection available to botanists and the general public. And perhaps ultimately, blazing a new understanding of the man, whose passion for nature saved so much of it for the rest of us. "It's really neat to go back in time and literally retrace someone's steps," said Doran.

"And it was really his inspiration to people to want to go out and explore nature and to protect these places for future generations to enjoy," said Tusa.

Click here if you're interested in learning more about Jepson Herbaria and their work.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
Related Topics:
societytravelnatureenvironmentBerkeleyUC Berkeley
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