Geotourism, John Muir and Youth

Originally Posted on December 17, 2012:

It is hard living with someone that has a grand vision that you do not always fully understand or envision. I wonder if Louie Strentzel Muir, John Muir’s wife, felt the same way? I say that because my husband had the vision for the naming of the John Muir Highway in 2006 as a way to honor the legacy of Muir and help our local rural community at the same time. From that beginning arose the creation of the John Muir Geotourism project or, as it turned out, a non-profit organization for a geotourism center. The seed was planted and after 6 years it has since taken root in the community: That is the key—the community. Local residents have embraced the concept and potential of sharing the historical connection between John Muir and their local, rural community and with outside urban visitors. It is called the John Muir Geotourism Center (JMGC). The website, annual festivals and upcoming youth program are just a few of the manifestations. They have taken the lead and are expanding the vision.

After you read John Muir’s writings you may come to the conclusion that he may have been one of the first geotourists! What is geotourism and why does it matter to you? National Geographic coined the word in 1997 but it is still not well known among the general public: geotourism (n): Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.

“Geotourism is sustainable tourism energized. It sustains, but it can also enhance—by means of restorative and constructive forms of tourism that fit the nature of the destination. Tourist revenue can help to restore historic districts, for instance, and support local craftspeople. It can help to preserve and develop local cuisines, based on distinctively local ingredients supplied by local farmers. It can help to retain traditional cultural celebrations and performing arts that would otherwise disappear. It can help to beautify ugly places and enrich poor places. It does those things best when focused on the distinctiveness of a place, avoiding the destructive pitfalls of undifferentiated global mass tourism.” Nationall Geographic. John Muir traveled and saw and appreciated the geographical character of the places he visited. It was a springboard to future conservation efforts.

JMGC will use John Muir’s legacy to help educate people of all ages, especially our youth, unplug from the electronic and social media distraction and enter the natural world that Muir so loved and shared in an investigative and literary way. The John Muir Highway is highlighted on the Sierra Business Council’s Sierra Nevada Geotourism Map. They are a primary advocate for the spread of geotourism activity in California and we are one of their prime contributors. They understand, as does JMGC, that the health and survival of the rural communities is paramount for current and future generations.

There are plenty of John Muir organizations and locations across the country to visit. Few have the benefit of still reflecting what Muir saw during his cross-country hikes. The John Muir Historic Route and the surrounding Coulterville area are a prime example of historical territory. In Muir’s 1868 journal—My First Summer in the Sierra—the trees and rocks and buildings that he drew and described can still be seen, preserved and not replaced by asphalt and condos! This is a gift that the JMGC will share with visitors and with a new Youth Education Program scheduled to launch Summer 2013 in conjunction with the 4th Annual John Muir Festival.

Expanding and acting on the vision, the Center has taken the step to hire an outdoor youth education professional to create a special program for youth to experience the full John Muir legacy based on his writings. The goal is to bring local youth and urban youth together in a geotourism experience and learn about nature, history, culture and each other and how they are all interwoven and what their individual impact can be. Brady Gill will be integrating his vision and passion for this mission as the program comes into focus. Suffice it to say this will begin as a unique summer program that no other organization is offering. He shared, “I am overjoyed to be joining the JMGC team. I have always been moved by Muir’s words and actions and believe that they lay important groundwork when experiencing the beauty and magic of the Sierra Nevada. Together we will create an amazing educational experience for our youth that will help them truly be present and inspired by the nature around them.”

We will honor John Muir’s suggestion: “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” John Muir

Teri Graf-Pulvino

V.P. Board of Directors