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Teddy Roosevelt's Legacy- the Environment

Muir Woods National Monument (National Park Service)

Crater Lake National Park



National Treasures - Tall Trees and Blue Lakes Forever!

Mama, tell us a story. Ok, little ones. Have you heard the howl of Coyote the Trickster? He is still mourning the loss of his love. Once a very long time ago, the night sky became very black except for the stars, which twinkled very brightly. Coyote saw the brightest star in the sky and decided to go to it.

At daybreak he climbed up to the highest peak and waited for his star to come. As the sunset, many bright colors filled the sky and melted into the sea. Soon it was dark again and all the stars came out shining. Coyote found his star-- the brightest in the sky -- and asked her to come and be his wife; he had fallen in love with her.

The star said NO. Coyote begged and grabbed the star to pull her to earth. But stars are sky creatures and do not want to touch the earth so she screamed at him, NO! Her yell startled him and he fell back so hard that when he landed, he crashed through the peak of the mountain and fell down through its center.

He was so heartbroken that he cried and cried until the mountain filled up with tears and a lake was formed. Sometimes now you can still hear the cries of Coyote as he longs for his lost love.

---Native American Folktale, retold by Jen

Crater Lake where Coyote cried his tears
Crater Lake where Coyote cried his tears

This Native American Folktale tells a story of the creation of Crater Lake. And it got me thinking, why are some places full of city and other places full of nature? Why are there houses and malls in one place, and parks and seashores in another? Looking back in history to the establishment of Muir Woods National Monument and Crater Lake National Park, we see a different story of creation. These two areas are full of nature because individuals took a stand to protect them, and keep them from being developed.


Yee-Haw!-Learning to drive a stick-shift can be fun...

Two men were responsible for the preservation of these two parks, named: William Kent and William Steele. Although their stories differ, both Kent and Steele dedicated years of work to protecting natural areas. Because of their hard work, President Teddy Roosevelt recognized the importance of preserving both Muir Woods and Crater Lake as land "dedicated and set apart forever for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the US."


Looking around San Francisco, the city where I live, I see a lot of houses. And I know it took a lot of wood to build them. At the turn of the century, as more people migrated to San Francisco, more and more trees were cut down to build their houses. In nearby Muir Woods (although it wasn't named this until years later,) the trees grew on steep hillsides and were difficult to access. In the early days of development, these trees had the luck of geography to spare them from the lumberyards.

Eventually, in search of wood, the lumber companies set out to acquire this land. This time it wasn't luck that would save Muir Woods, but a rich congressman and conservationist named William Kent. He bought the grove of trees for $45,000. (Imagine how much money that would be today!) But the land was still in danger because a local water agency wanted to condemn the land and build a dam.

Finally, Kent went to President Theodore Roosevelt and asked that the land be protected. In 1908 the land achieved National Monument status and was named for the famous conservationist, John Muir. After learning so much about the history of Muir Woods, I was excited to see the tress that William Kent worked so hard to save, and to visit the land named after someone who cared so much about nature.

 Neda and Jen begin their three hour hike into Muir Woods
 Neda and Jen begin their three hour hike into Muir Woods

Neda and I arrived at the entrance, asked the ranger to suggest a good route, and headed into the park for a three-hour hike. (Fortunately for me, Neda has a good memory and sense of direction, so we didn't need a map at all.) The giant redwoods loomed all around us as rays of sunlight fought their way through the branches. The paths were well maintained and there were stations with information about the trees and plant life. I stopped every once in a while to check out the interesting mushrooms that were growing beneath the fallen trees. The trees are so tall that most of the sunlight is kept out, making it difficult for anything but mushrooms to grow in such a dark place. Though I often look at my feet when hiking (to secure my next step), in Muir Woods I kept reminding myself to look up, look up, so that I could appreciate the tremendous beauty that William Kent worked so hard to preserve.

We arrived at a small grove of trees whose trunks twisted around each other and reached up to the sky. The placard in front of the trees told of a group of United Nations delegates who met at Muir Woods on May 19, 1945. The beauty of this park inspires people from all over the world.

"Persons who love nature find a common basis for understanding people of other countries. Since the love of nature is universal among men of all nations."

--Dag Hammerskjold, Secretary-General, 1955

Mama, tell us another story. All right my loves. Do you know the sad story of Teddy the Cowboy who mended his broken heart by loving the land? Long ago, when Teddy was only 25, both his mother and his wife died. He nearly died too, of a broken heart. He set out on his horse to the land of the Dakotas where a cowboy could be as free and lonely as the mountains surrounding him. By working the land, Teddy the Cowboy was able to overcome his broken heart. He had the land to love.

If it weren't for President Roosevelt, these beautiful Redwoods may not be here.

It sounds like another folktale, but really it is the true story of President Theodore Roosevelt. When he became president, he wanted to return the gifts that the land had given to him. He supported John Muir and even went on a four-day trek through Yosemite, now another National Park. It was through his support that Muir Woods, Crater Lake, and many other parks and monuments were set aside as national treasures.

William Gladstone Steele learned about Crater Lake when he was sixteen years old by reading a sheet of newspaper that wrapped his lunch. Years later he went to see the crater firsthand. It took him seventeen years but eventually in 1902, Steele was able to convince Theodore Roosevelt to make Crater Lake a National Park.

Like most protected areas, Crater Lake is a "land of many uses." As a National Park, it is officially protected as a resource for studies in lake ecology, forest ecosystems and geological processes. It is also preserved for the benefit of the many people who visit and enjoy skiing, hiking and being surrounded by the wonders of nature.

Our expedition takes us to the amazing Crater Lake

Neda and I launched our own expedition to the lake, driving up an icy road past snow-covered trees. We reached the visitor center where I learned the tale of Coyote the Trickster, as well as other Native American folktales about the crater. We drove on a little further, and came upon a large circle of snow covered mountains surrounding a glassy blue lake. The volcanic explosion of Mt. Mazama over 7700 years ago created the deepest lake in the United States', the 7th deepest in the world. Crater Lake was just as beautiful as it must have been when Steel first saw it. It is said that Steel, upon his arrival, looked down into the wide lake below and exclaimed,

"Not a foot of the land about the lake had been touched or claimed. An overmastering conviction came to me that this wonderful spot must be saved…and that it was up to me to do something."

Imagine if Muir Woods had not been preserved

After visiting both of these incredible places and learning of the work that the two men named William strove to protect, I thought to myself, will I ever feel so passionate about something that I would spend seventeen years fighting for it? As we drove away from Crater Lake and made our way northward towards Washington, we passed by many lumber mills. I definitely felt differently about all the felled trees lying in large piles, ready to be stripped and processed into usable lumber. Where had they come from? Had someone tried to save them and protect their forest from being destroyed? Did someone think to plant new trees in their place? What role do I play in all this? It seems to me that as I finish this story, I am left with more questions than answers.


Please email me at: jennifer@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Does money really talk or should it take a walk?
Nick - Pop goes the price of corporate farm corn
Stephen - Political corruption: the good, the bad and the ugly
Daphne - Final exam grades for sale!...For real?
Neda - Two Wobbly ghosts named Ralph and Wilma
MAD - Is that a worm or a spliced, mutated gene in your apple?