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Experience the Places that Shaped Conservation’s Heroes  

12-01-2010 00:00

At last, after decades of taking parallel paths, the preservation and conservation movements are recognizing the value of working together to protect places of natural and cultural significance. The benefits—and, indeed, the necessity—of collaboration was a message repeated in many sessions and settings of the 2010 National Preservation Conference in Austin. And this is the theme of the (Fall 2010) issue of Forum Journal, entitled “Bridging Land Conservation and Historic Preservation.”

What better way to bridge the realms of land conservation and historic preservation than to celebrate and explore the places where the environmental movement made history? In addition to all the other delights and values they provide, national and state parks and other public lands stand as monuments to the historic rise of land and environmental conservation in this country. From Yosemite in California to the Adirondack Park in New York to Acadia in Maine, our grandest public lands are a record of our evolving conservation ideals and objectives.

But less well known are the many places across the country that helped shape conservation’s greatest minds, which have also survived and can help visitors connect with the people who drove this movement’s history.

Leaders and Their Treasured Places

John James Audubon (1785–1851)
John James Audubon meticulously illustrated the birds he sought out across early America, advancing the scientific study and appreciation of the country’s natural bounty. The National Audubon Society and Montgomery County, Pa., own and operate the art museum and historic site at Mill Grove, the artist’s stately stone house on 175 acres, in Audubon, Pa.

George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882)
George Marsh was an early ecologist, publishing Man and Nature, and focusing on natural systems and the pressing threat of deforestation. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt., both conserves a key natural area and interprets the story of three generations of conservation history, starting with the work of George Perkins Marsh.

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
Writing during the flowering of the Industrial Revolution, naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau gave expression and form to increasing anxieties about humanity’s spiritual distance from and exploitation of the natural world. From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau retreated to a shelter in the woods near Concord, Mass., an experience that he used as the basis for his influential philosophical treatise Walden; or, Life in the Woods. The site of Thoreau’s cottage and Walden Pond are protected and open today as part of the Massachusetts state park system.

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903)
Heralded by preservationists for his place in the history of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted’s work was also a central part of the social progressive effort to respond to increasing pollution and unsanitary environmental conditions in America’s cities. Enriching urban centers with clean air, room to roam, and natural beauty, his masterworks showed the way for today’s flourishing parks and open space conservation movement. His home is a National Historic Site in Brookline, Mass.

John Muir (1838–1914)
John Muir studied, traveled, and wrote widely about the natural world, and then went on to advocate for protection of the country’s most special places. His passionate activism inspired creation of the Yosemite National Park and other parks, as well as the Sierra Club. The John Muir Homestead is a National Historic Site in Martinez, Calif.

John Burroughs (1837–1921)
John Burroughs produced some of the most intensely popular and influential nature essays of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, greatly helping to spread a popular, romantic regard for wildlife and wilderness. His rustic cabin, Slabsides, is located in West Park, in the mid–Hudson Valley of New York. It is a National Historic Landmark and is preserved and operated by the John Burroughs Association.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
The country’s 26th president combined his love of majestic wilderness with his political leadership to create a robust and lasting conservation legacy. A number of sites associated with Roosevelt’s life are open to the public, but much of his adulthood and his summers as president were spent at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, N.Y.—now a National Historic Site.

George Washington Carver (186?–1943)
Enslaved for his first years of life, George Washington Carver rose to make essential scientific contributions to the history of soil and agricultural science. His work at the Tuskegee Institute on crop rotation and soil conservation, and his focus on supporting production in struggling southern farms, prefigured today’s agricultural conservation movement. His life and achievements are interpreted at the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Ala.

Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946)
It took vision and courage to begin to integrate a conservation ethic into industrial practice. Gifford Pinchot pioneered modern forest management with an emphasis on sustainability, and became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. His home, Grey Towers, is outside Milford, Pa., and is a National Historic Site. 

Aldo Leopold (1887–1948)
Considered the father of wildlife management, Aldo Leopold created groundbreaking ecological restoration experiments on his family’s farm in Wisconsin. In that place, he also wrote his seminal series of essays on humanity’s relationship with nature, Sand County Almanac. Today the Aldo Leopold Foundation operates the National Historic Landmark site near Baraboo, Wis., as an education and interpretive center.

Rachel Carson (1907–964)
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring brought unprecedented popular attention to the threats posed by chemical pesticides, and helped launch the modern environmental movement. Located in Springdale, in southwestern Pennsylvania, the historic Rachel Carson Homestead is open for tours and hosts educational events related to Carson’s environmental ethic. The site also boasts gardens with native plantings and a nature trail.

César Chávez (1927–1993)
Known for his legacy as a labor organizer and civil rights leader, César Chávez’s activism against the use of pesticides toxic to farm laborers also helped lay the groundwork for the environmental justice movement. Today the National Park Service is studying sites associated with César Chávez to help plan for future interpretation of his life. A local effort also is underway to preserve the Santa Rita Center in Phoenix, Ariz., where Chávez launched his hunger strike for worker protections.

Hazel Johnson
Called the mother of the environmental justice movement, Hazel Johnson advocated since the 1980s for decent conditions in her community of Altgeld Gardens, a historic public housing development in the south side of Chicago. Leaders like Hazel Johnson have worked in the more recent years of the conservation movement to raise awareness of how environmental ills have disparately affected low-income communities, and it seems likely that sites at the center of these fights, such as Altgeld Gardens, will someday join the list of landmarks in conservation history.



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Author(s):Roberta Lane
Volume:17
Issue:4