Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


The Sierra Club and The High Country

The increase in visitor interest in the southern Sierra did not limited itself solely to the developed areas within the two parks. As early as 1892 John Muir brought together in San Francisco a number of his friends and other appreciators of the mountains to form the Sierra Club: "to explore, enjoy, and render accessible the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast; to publish authentic information concerning them; [and] to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and the Government in preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada." [66] Initially, the new club was small, but its members, many of them associated either with the University of California at Berkeley or Stanford University, brought to the organization a deep appreciation for the beauty of the mountains. Many of them were no strangers to the southern portions of the Sierra. For example, early club member Joseph N. LeConte, while still a student at Cal, undertook during the summer of 1890 a sixty-seven day trip of some 652 miles which took him to Kings Canyon, Mt. Whitney, and Yosemite. During his long life (1870-1951) LeConte would make more than eighty backcountry trips in the Sierra and play a major role in opening the Kings Canyon back-country to recreational use. [67]

Sierra Club members
By the beginning of the twentieth century, recreational use of the southern Sierra had begun. The Sierra Club took its first outing in the region in 1902.

Until the 1890s, despite the pioneer mapping of the California Geological Survey and several-decade's use by shepherds, the high country remained largely unknown as a recreational resource. Three individuals, all associated with the early Sierra Club, changed this pattern. One was LeConte, the others were Bolton Coit Brown, an art instructor at Stanford University, and Theodore Solomons, a young man from Fresno who had been smitten by the mountains that rose from the valley of his birth. During a decade of summer adventures these three men led the recreational exploration and mapping of the southern Sierra. Because nearly all previous explorations in the mountains had focused on getting across them, it fell to these three to figure out how to travel north and south within the high country. From their efforts came a wonderful series of articles in the Sierra Club Bulletin and, ultimately, the first locally accurate maps of the headwaters of the Kings River. And it was Solomons who put the routes together and came up with the idea that would eventually become the John Muir Trail, a route running the length of the high Sierra and closely paralleling the summit crest. [68]

Inevitably as LeConte, Brown, and Solomons shared their adventures, others followed in their footsteps. By the turn of the century, the Sierra Club initiated a program of elaborate annual outings, many of them in the southern Sierra. The club's first "Outing," in 1901, occurred at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, and the second, the following year, in Kings Canyon, where a permanent camp was set up near the mouth of Copper Creek. Setting a model for similar outing camps that the club would operate for the next several decades, the camp at Copper Creek in 1902 had 200 residents who required 25,000 pounds of baggage, all transported by mules. More than fifty members of the club made the ascent of Mt. Brewer, where less than forty years previously Brewer and King had struggled desperately just to attain the summit. Recreation had come to the high Sierra. [69]


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4i.htm — 12-Jul-2004