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Sierra Club Environmental Education Program
LeConte Memorial Lodge 1904-2004

Bernie Zaleha, Vice President of Sierra Club at LeConte Memorial Lodge July 3 2004

The Sierra Club:
Volunteering to Make a Better World

Bernie Zaleha
Vice-President, Sierra Club

Remarks at the LeConte Memorial Lodge Rededication Ceremony, July 3, 2004

Thank you all for coming to this Centennial Celebration of this beautiful building, the LeConte Memorial Lodge. It is such a real honor and pleasure to be here in Yosemite Valley on this very special occasion.

As I continue to journey through my 47th year, I find myself reflecting more and more on my past and what experiences in my life have led me to my life-long involvement in efforts to promote environmental protection and preserve wild places. I know that I had very formative experiences right here in this valley as a small child when my parents would bring me here to camp in the 60s. I know that it was here that my love for wild nature began. Then there was all the rock climbing I did here in the mid-70s.

And as I think about how grateful I am for those experiences, I think increasingly about how grateful I am to those who have given of themselves to teach others about the importance of this valley to ourselves and future generations, and who teach of the more general importance of a clean and healthy environment with beautiful and wild places like Yosemite to enjoy. I think of how grateful I am for the work of Sierra Club volunteers at this place, working in cooperation with the Park Service to help to preserve Yosemite by sharing their enthusiastic love of this place with the countless visitors who pass through here.

I'd like to illustrate how important this kind of volunteer work is with a personal story. This past October, I was attending a Sierra Club event in the Chicago area that included an option for a day_long field trip to the Midewin (me_DAY_win) National Tall Grass Prairie one hour south of Chicago. Having never seen a tall grass prairie and having always wanted to, I elected to go a day early so I could participate. Early on a Friday morning, we loaded onto a bus and, after for an hour_long ride through rural Illinois, we arrived that at the Midewin headquarters, a site is administered by the U.S. Forest Service (seeing we don't have a U.S. Tall Grass Prairie Service). However, instead of tall grasses waving gently in the wind that I had imagined in my mind's eye, I found instead a 20,000 acre area which until the mid_1990s had been a Army ammunition plant.

We had a brief introductory presentation about restoration efforts at the site, and then it was back on the bus to begin our tour. Our first stop was a large field where native grasses and plants were being grown as a source of seeds. That morning a group of about 30 members from the local Sierra Club group were volunteering their time to help the Forest Service harvest seeds from these cultivated plots of native tall grass prairie plants. The Sierra Club has a long history of helping with various projects all over the country and it always warms my heart to witness volunteers in action. But the true significance of what I was witnessing was not yet clear to me.

The tour continued and, as the day wore on, we saw areas for proposed for hiking trails, the abandoned munitions plants, remnant wetland areas, and areas still in agricultural use. The day was coming to an end, and I was beginning to wonder when I was going to see the tall grass prairie. I still had it in my mind that somewhere on this 20,000 site was some small but intact remnant of this once vast ecosystem. As if reading my mind, our Forest Service tour guide just then said "At about this point in the tour, someone usually asks, when do we get to see the tall grass prairie. Well, I can't show it to you, because it doesn't exist yet. What we're doing here at Midewin is engaging in a multi_decade effort to put back something that isn't here anymore. As it says on our logo, we're making a gift to future generations." That's when I realized the true significance of all those Sierra Club volunteers harvesting seeds I had seen earlier in the day. They were volunteering and giving of themselves in an effort, the results of which they would probably never live to see. The actual benefit would be realized by future generations.

That's what I love about the Sierra Club. Its people like yourself, coming and giving of your time and efforts to make a better world, not just for ourselves but for those who come after us. It is truly the finest display of what it means to be citizens, people who so love their country that they come out and work together to make it better.

So, with Joseph LeConte, let us raise our arms in exuberant joy. [Audience joins Bernie in raising their arms]. Thank you so much coming to this special event, and for all the work you do for Yosemite and the planet. Thanks again.



Return to Rededication Ceremony

Rededication Photos

Re-Dedication of LeConte Memorial Lodge
(Photo Album)

Michael Reynolds, National Park Service, Yosemite National Park
Bernie Zaleha, Vice-President, Sierra Club
Bruce Hamilton, Conservation Director, Sierra Club
Bonnie Gisel, Curator, LeConte Memorial Lodge
Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee

Centennial Day Photo Album

Rededication Photo Album


Learn more about the LeConte Lodge Centennial.

Would you like to hear news about the LeConte Memorial Lodge? Sign up for our LeConte Lodge Forum e-mail list.

Information and Donations

For more information, during the summer contact Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Curator, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, 1-209-372-4542; e-mail:

During the winter, contact LeConte Lodge Committee Chair, Harold Wood, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93278; phone: (559) 697-3525; e-mail:

Tax deductible donations to support the new exhibits and renovation efforts of the LeConte Memorial can be made to "Sierra Club Foundation," marked for the "LeConte Lodge Fund."

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