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Muir Woods National Monument

My sensors seem to be more alive as I enter the inviting shade of the towering redwoods. The air feels cool and crisp on my skin even on this warm summer day. Breathing this forest air is so refreshing that it makes me wonder why we put up with anything else. My dormant capitalistic instincts quickly try to figure out how to bottle, mass market, and distribute this air delicacy throughout the world. I suddenly snap out of my daydream as I look up at the Goliaths surrounding me. I bend my neck back as far as it will go and as I look up I feel like a toddler looking up at grownups. But in reality grownups are only two to three times taller than a toddler and redwoods can be over 60 times taller than a human. The Sequoia Sempervirens (or Coast Redwood) is the tallest tree species in the world at times measuring over 370-ft (113 m). Thousands of years ago these mighty beings covered much of North America but as the earth naturally warmed, their growing region was limited to the coasts of Northern California and Oregon. It is even harder to believe that these trees were abundant around the San Francisco Bay up until the 1850s when their coveted lumber was used to fuel the city’s growth during the gold rush. The redwood’s success in nature was also its downfall with humans. One of the redwood’s secrets to success in nature is the tannic acid that not only gives them their rusty red color but also protects them from pests such as termites and fungus but unfortunately not from humans. Another one of its traits for success is the redwood’s height. Growing taller than other trees allow them to monopolize the sunlight. Their resistance to pests along with their straightness and length made them highly desired for building.

Muir Woods National Monument

So why was Muir Woods spared from this destruction? Redwood creek, which is where Muir Woods is located, was geographically difficult to reach and so these woods were spared from logging activity. In 1905 William Kent, a state congressman, purchased the land. Being a conservationist, Kent desired to share the beauty of this forest with others but his dream was threatened after the 1906 earthquake that destroyed most of the city of San Francisco. Government officials threatened to condemn Kent’s land if he refused to sell it to allow the logging of this redwood forest in order to rebuild San Francisco. Kent refused to sell the property knowing that it was the last remaining old growth (un-logged) redwood forest in the area. Being a politician, Kent realized that the only way to save the forest was by donating it to the Federal government so that it be protected under the Antiquities Act. Kent decided to name the park Muir Woods after John Muir who was one of the first conservationists in the United States and founder of the Sierra Club, a national organization dedicated to the conservation of the wilderness.

Walking in awe along redwood creek makes me feel thankful for Kent’s foresight and generosity. How else could we enjoy the majestic company of these ancient trees that can reach the ripe age of 2,000 years? To look at a redwood, one’s first instinct is to focus on its height but it pays to take a second glance. Focusing on its rough twisting bark, even more amazing is to realize the hundreds if not thousands of storms, droughts, winters, fires that these trees have endured. There are trees in this forest that were alive not only before any European settler arrived in this region but well before America was discovered. To say that there are redwoods alive today than before the beginning of Christianity is difficult to internalize. Even more astonishing is realizing that we humans have destroyed almost all redwood trees in the San Francisco Bay area in less than a tenth of the time they took to grow. In total, only 5% of all old growth forests are left today. You better come visit… they’ve been waiting.

The Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the land a National Monument. The monument is located on the Pacific coast of southwestern Marin County 12 miles north of San Francisco. The monument is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and encompasses 559 acres, of which 240 acres are old growth Coast Redwoods. The monument is one of the last old growth Coastal Redwood Forests remaining in the San Francisco Bay Area and is part of the Sequoia sempervirens group. This group of trees is only found in a narrow stretch of Pacific coastal woodland stretching from Monterey to Oregon.

In the early 20th century logging companies began harvesting the coastal woodlands and decimated most of the estimated 2 million acres of Sequoia sempervirens growing along the California coast. U.S. Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thatcher Kent noticed the decline in old growth forest due to the high demand for lumber and purchased 611 acres of of land from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company for $45,000 with the intention of protecting the redwoods and the mountains above them. In 1907 a local water company in Sausalito created a plan to dam Redwood Creek which would flood the redwood dotted valley below. Congressman Kent objected to the plan and bypassed a local court ruling by donating 295 acres of land to the Federal Government.

In January 1908 President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the land a national monument, the first of its kind created by land donated by an individual. Congressman Kent insisted that the monument be named after naturalist John Muir, whose environmental campaigns helped to establish the United States National Park System. Today the Muir Woods National Monument is a United States National Park that caters to pedestrians with a number of paved and unpaved walking and biking trails leading tourists through the woods and over the mountains of coastal California. For more information about Muir Woods National Monument please visit www.nps.gov/muwo.