Tonight I watch the stars come out in the sky. Is there anything like it? I think I appreciate it even more living here, because so often the fog plays hide and seek with the stars. Tonight, two planes swim through the sky.
I come to the Chronicle to see which planet I may be viewing and find this wonderful article on Edgar Wayburn, our own living John Muir. What a man to contemplate on the evening of a day of peace. His priorities enrich us all.
100 years, 100 million acres of land saved
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Pre-eminent San Francisco environmentalist Edgar Wayburn, who ranks with John Muir in the annals of conservation history, is credited with saving more than 100 million acres of mountains, meadows and rivers in California and Alaska.
On Sunday he marks another milestone: His 100th birthday.
That means he has protected at least 1 million acres of land for each year of his life, from the top of Mount McKinley to Point Reyes National Seashore.
"Edgar Wayburn has helped to preserve the most breathtaking examples of the American landscape," President Bill Clinton said in 1999 when he presented Wayburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.
"He has saved more of our wilderness than any other person alive," Clinton said.
As president and longtime leader of the Sierra Club, Wayburn designed and negotiated the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which stretches over 85,000 coastal acres between San Mateo and Marin counties, and Redwood National Park in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. His work saved the slopes of Mount Tamalpais from development and expanded Mount Tamalpais State Park by six times its original size.
And after a life-changing trip in the 1960s to Mount McKinley, the Kenai Peninsula and Glacier Bay, he wrote and worked for the passage of the sweeping Alaska lands bill, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
Wayburn now spends more time in a comfortable chair in his Japantown home than in the High Sierra or his beloved redwood forests.
Yet he can recall in detail 60 years of environmental battles, his early medical practice in internal medicine at San Francisco General Hospital and UCSF, and family life with his wife and four children.
"I think of flying with my wife, Peggy, above the clouds over the Alatna River in Alaska. The clouds cleared just at that time so we could see the startling color of the beautiful green-blue river. This was one of the things that got us started in trying to protect it,'' Wayburn said.
"On all my adventures, Peggy was with me," he said.
It took him and his colleagues 13 years to win passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which saved 103 million acres of parks, refuges and wilderness areas, such as Denali, Glacier Bay and Katmai.
In his 2004 book, "Your Land and Mine: Evolution of a Conservationist," he explained why he spent so much of his life on environmental causes:
"Whenever we encroach on the natural world, we crop the boundaries of our own existence as humans, cut off our fields of solace and sensation. Vistas, textures, odors and sound fade and then disappear. In destroying wildness, we deny ourselves the full extent of what it means to be alive.''
He grew up playing outdoors at his house in Macon, Ga., but his ethic of conservation and the scientific knowledge of the natural world grew after he moved to California.
Both as a boy and after his first year at Harvard Medical School, he visited his uncle, Will Voorsanger, who ran a tuberculosis sanatorium in Los Gatos. Wayburn resolved to move.
"San Francisco, I thought, was the place to be. It was California,'' he said.
He arrived by train in 1933 at age 26 to start his medical practice. On seeing San Francisco Bay, he wrote that the "bay looked immense and soothing, its expanse yet to be fractured by such constructions as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.''
He hiked from Tuolumne Meadows to Benson Lake in Yosemite National Park in 1935 and was struck by the beauty. "The Sierra was my first wilderness love,'' he said.
Wayburn joined the Sierra Club in 1939 so he could go on a burro trip in the Sierra. At that time, the club had about 3,000 members, most in California. Today's membership exceeds 750,000.
After four years in the military during World War II, he returned to San Francisco and in 1946 had his first date with chic, cigarette-smoking Peggy Elliott. She was a former Vogue editor working at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency in San Francisco. They fell in love and got married less than six months later. Peggy Wayburn, also a dedicated conservationist, died four years ago.
"She was beautiful. She was intelligent. We enjoyed talking about the same things,'' Wayburn said.
They'd take the ferry to Sausalito and the train to Larkspur, walking the rest of the way to hike on Mount Tam. Ed Wayburn worried about speculators buying up the old ranches and covering the land with houses. It took more than a decade to acquire land for the state park, which now covers 6,700 acres.
The couple, who always lived in San Francisco, later in life bought a weekend house in Bolinas.
Artist Amy Meyer became Wayburn's partner in working with San Francisco's Rep. Phillip Burton, a Democrat, and Rep. Bill Mailliard, a Republican, on the creation of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the first urban national parks.
"The most amazing quality about Ed is that he doesn't put his ego in front of a project. What counts is the park -- the habitat for wildlife and the place for people," said Meyer, who just wrote a book about those days, "New Guardians for the Golden Gate."
Wayburn and Burton, who died in 1983, became close friends. When the congressman came to town, the pair dined at the House of Prime Rib.
The two were quite a contrast: big, brash Burton and slim, soft-spoken Wayburn, then a Republican.
"I offered to change the registration of my party. Phil said, 'Oh, no. I need you to introduce as my Republican constituent on the Capitol steps.' Later, I did change my registration, but not until after Phil died," Wayburn remembered.
With Burton marshaling votes, it took only 21 months in 1972 to pass legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
"What characterizes Ed Wayburn, like nobody else, is his perseverance. He's quiet. He doesn't stand and shout. He's not the first person you notice in the room. But he's always there, and that's what does it,'' said Dr. Bill Andereck, who joined Wayburn in practice at Presbyterian Hospital-Pacific Medical Center in 1979.
Even today, the younger guardians of the Golden Gate's national park come to him for advice on subjects as varied as dogs and budgets.
The Sierra Club threw a party for Wayburn at Fort Mason on Friday. The club named him honorary president a decade ago and holds him in the same regard as founder John Muir. On Sunday, his close friends will help him celebrate.