This column originally appeared in the Oct. 24, 2017, issue of the Portage County Gazette. The Muir traveling exhibit hasn’t disappeared, though — it can be booked through the Wisconsin Historical Society for those interested in exhibiting it.
It’s the last weekend to see the state historical society’s exhibit on John Muir while it’s in Stevens Point, but that doesn’t mean it’s your last chance to get a little closer to understanding what he was about.
The eight-panel exhibit, set up through Oct. 21 in the lobby of the library at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, focuses on Muir’s youth in Wisconsin, his advocacy for the U.S. national parks system and his thoughts on environmental issues.
The exhibit’s next stop is UW-Parkside in Kenosha, where it will reside from Oct. 24-Nov. 11, but anyone can get a slightly different take – and likely a more brisk one – by taking a walk at his boyhood home at John Muir Memorial County Park south of Montello.
Frequent hiking buddy Chris Sadler and I made the hour-long drive to Marquette County to take in the early fall air and see where the 10-year-old Muir learned to swim and loved to explore the natural world.
Summer is the time to get out and enjoy the state parks — particularly if you’re in Wisconsin, because there’s no telling how much longer some of them are going to be around.
Our family at Copper Falls State Park in Northern Wisconsin. The state couldn’t kill the park through mining permits, so it looks like it’s trying through defunding.
Sound exaggerated? Consider that Alabama has reckoned on closing 15 of its state parks, leaving only seven for the public to enjoy. Given that Wisconsin will remove all tax support for the parks, it’s reasonable to assume that some, if not many, of our 50 or so* state parks won’t be open when the next legislatively manufactured budget “crisis” rolls around in two years.
It’s crucial to note that the seven parks that would survive Alabama’s short-sighted proposal are those that have “consistently made a profit” over a three-year period, according to the state parks director.
Earth Day, April 22, follows by one day the birthday of John Muir, a great former Wisconsinite and one of my personal heroes. A founder of the Sierra Club and one of the most influential nature writers in history, Muir is deeply tied to our state in many ways.
We’re reminded of this when we take in the visitor center at Schmeeckle Reserve or ramble around the Bascom Hill Historic District at UW-Madison (as my colleague Tim Halkowski did recently, posting a photo of a Muir marker — one of several Facebook posts he’s devoted to Muir over the past week). Here’s a little more about Muir’s ties to our state.
Muir, of course, loved to wander, so he’s a perfect figure to study during the “Words Are Roads: Yellowstone” tour this summer. It’s hard not to be impressed with a guy who can walk from Indiana to Florida in a bit more than a month (thanks for that link too, Tim); the backstory to this walk is even more improbable than the walk itself.
It’s too easy to fill space writing about the Muir’s accomplishments, but I’ll leave that to others on his birthday. I do hope all of my students this summer, if they aren’t already familiar with Muir, will be able to share my fascination with the man and his work.
For all students everywhere, however, it’s usually fun to consider what’s behind a guy who can invent both a book-opening study desk and a combination alarm clock and tilting bed. Muir was definitely one creative Badger.
(edit: Muir’s birthday is not April 22 as I originally wrote. My apologies for the error.)