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LeConte Lodge | Our Ears Are Burning | Take Action | Grassroots

Celebrating a Century of Slack-Jawed Awe

by Reed McManus

With its Middle-earth-like pitched roof and rough-hewn granite stonework, LeConte Memorial Lodge looks like it’s been a part of Yosemite Valley as long as the 3,000-foot-high glacial walls that loom behind it. But the building, a national historic landmark operated by the Sierra Club, was opened a mere 100 years ago.

This year, some 3.5 million visitors will gape at Yosemite’s grandeur, and about 15,000 will enter LeConte to learn more about the park. The lodge—which, despite its name, doesn’t offer accommodations—provides information about Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, the park system, and the Club. Its library includes books on the natural and human history of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada; nature lovers can curl up with works by and about John Muir, Ansel Adams, or David Brower. LeConte’s volunteer staff offers free programs, including poetry workshops, storytelling, and nature walks for children and families.

This summer’s centennial celebration adds icing to the cake. Club volunteers are stitching together the last panels in the "Wilderness Quilt Project," an effort begun in 2002 in which lodge visitors painted quilt squares to memorialize their Yosemite experiences. (After the summer season ends, one centennial quilt will remain at the lodge, one will be displayed at the Club’s headquarters in San Francisco, and one will be given to the National Park Service.) A book, The Wilderness Quilt: Memories of Yosemite National Park, will complement the project, highlighting dozens of the squares painted for the quilt.

LeConte volunteers are also coordinating Words for Wilderness Around the World, a global effort that encourages people to write 50 words about the importance of wild places and nature in their lives. (You can submit an entry at the lodge, or online at Yosemite has never failed to inspire: Club luminary Edward T. Parsons wrote that lodge namesake Joseph LeConte, an early director of the Sierra Club who died in the valley in 1901 at the age of 76, once stood on a rock in the spray of lower Yosemite Falls and "raised his arms aloft and shouted in the exuberance of his joy and delight at the magnificent spectacle before him." Words for Wilderness submissions will be displayed at many of the sites that John Muir visited during his life.

No matter how hard the Club tries, though, some folks can’t be enticed to celebrate. LeConte Lodge’s biggest party pooper is Representative George Radanovich (R-Calif.), who has introduced a bill in Congress that would force the historic lodge to be removed from Yosemite Valley and thwart efforts to reduce visitor impact. Radanovich, chair of the House subcommittee on national parks, is upset that the Sierra Club opposes reconstruction of valley campsites destroyed in a 1997 flood, even though the National Park Service’s Yosemite Valley Plan, adopted in late 2000 after a decade of debate, agrees with the Club. The plan instead calls for the construction of campgrounds in less-sensitive areas. It also calls for permanent protection of LeConte Lodge, a decision that its supporters hope Yosemite visitors will be able to applaud for many years to come.

To find out more about LeConte Memorial Lodge, or to become the latest in a line of distinguished lodge volunteers (in 1920, 19-year-old Ansel Adams served as caretaker), go to

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Our Ears Are Burning

Illustration: Debbie Drechsler

"The 700,000-member Sierra Club initiated a project called Let’s Talk, meant to encourage neighbors to discuss issues that matter. The Sierra Club pointed to some of the same things my neighbor did—that when we engage in conversation, we’re smarter, more in touch with issues at stake in a democracy, and even safer and healthier. After all, when we know each other, we know if something is amiss at the house next door, and whether it’s time to check in."  

—columnist Diane Evans, Akron Beacon Journal, December 2, 2003

"If Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club—an odd couple, to be sure—can agree on the need for a public airing of the documents, the Supreme Court should be able to recognize the common ground of public interest that’s at stake here."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in a December 17, 2003, editorial lauding the Court’s decision to hear the Bush administration’s appeal of a lawsuit brought by the "conservative" Judicial Watch and the "liberal" Sierra Club. The two groups are seeking a full accounting of industry participation in Vice President Cheney’s secretive energy task force.

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Take Action

Visit the Sierra Club’s Web site at, where you can sign up for the Take Action Network to send messages to your elected officials.

For the inside story about Club conservation campaigns and how you can help, ask for a free subscription to the bimonthly print newsletter the Planet. Send an e-mail to, or write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3459.

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by Reed McManus

Utah | Ohio | Montana | New Jersey

No Pumping and Dumping
During hearings to confirm his appointment as EPA administrator last fall, then–Utah governor Mike Leavitt (R) touted his ability to bring groups together in the spirit of cooperation, a philosophy he calls "enlibra." A coalition of duck hunters, cattle ranchers, steelworkers, and environmental organizations including the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter would agree that Leavitt does bring folks together—but not in the way he intends. In January, these groups forced a halt to a Leavitt-sponsored plan to dump contaminants from polluted groundwater into the Jordan River, which flows into the Great Salt Lake’s wetlands. They want to prevent selenium, a metal that can be toxic to waterfowl, from contaminating an important flyway for migratory birds. Even without additional effluent, selenium levels in the wetlands are already dangerously close to federal limits.

Tempered Steel
The AK Steel facility in Middletown, Ohio, isn’t the kind of neighbor you’d encourage to stick around. The plant coats nearby homes and vehicles in soot, and in 2001 the EPA initiated action against AK for more than 200 violations of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. So when company officials complained that the cost of cleaning up might force it to leave town, some environmentalists might have said "good riddance."

But well-paying jobs aren’t easy to come by. So the Ohio Chapter and other environmental activists urged AK to clean up its act—and signed on to a lawsuit against the company brought by Ohio EPA and the federal EPA.

Early this year, AK agreed to spend $65 million on pollution controls. The investment will allow the company to meet new federal pollution rules slated to go into effect in 2006, and save at least 1,000 jobs at the 100-year-old plant. Issues surrounding pollution of a local creek by toxic polychlorinated biphenyl are still unresolved, but an AK Steel remediation plan is seen as a promising first step. "I’m excited about it," says local resident Ray Agee. He doesn’t work at the steel plant, but Agee’s life savings are invested in his house. "These improvements will make Middletown a better place—and certainly a healthier place—to live."

Read more about Middletown in the Sierra Club’s 2002 report "Communities at Risk" at

Putting the Brakes on Logging
A federal court won’t add to the damage caused by wildfires that raced across the northern Rockies in 2000. Agreeing with the Club’s Montana Chapter that the U.S. Forest Service had taken only a "superficial" look at the effects of logging on unroaded lands, in December the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Lolo National Forest’s plan for logging nearly 35 million board feet of timber in burned areas. The judges ruled that "logging in an unroaded area could have serious environmental consequences." More than half of the logging project’s 4,714 acres is on unroaded forestland. The controversial plan had already been suspended once before, when a U.S. District Court judge determined that the Forest Service had inadequately addressed water-quality issues.

New Jersey
Baby, We Were Born to Breathe
With some of its counties rated among the 25 worst in the nation for air toxics, Bruce Springsteen’s home state is one of the most important when it comes to cleaning up the air. So New Jersey Chapter activists have plenty to sing about after three years of hard work: In January, Governor James McGreevey (D) signed the Clean Cars Act, making the Garden State the fifth in the nation—and the first in the mid-Atlantic region—to adopt California’s low-emission standards for vehicles. Under the new rule, New Jersey will mandate reduced tailpipe emissions for all cars, sport-utility vehicles, and light-duty trucks by 2009, and require automakers to produce approximately 40,000 low-emission vehicles, such as gas-electric hybrid cars, for sale in the state.

Contact Us
Spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area by writing to Reed McManus at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail; fax (415) 977-5794.

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