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Sigurd F. Olson


Sigurd Olson, photo courtesy of Sigurd F Olson website by David Backes
  • Sigurd Olson was one of America's most beloved nature writers and most influential conservationists of the 20th century. As a nature writer, he is best known as the author of The Singing Wilderness and eight other books about the North Woods wilderness of northern Minnesota.
  • Olson played an important role in the preservation of a number of national parks, seashores, and wilderness areas. He served as a volunteer leader in several environmental groups, including President of The Wilderness Society, President of the National Parks Association, and Wilderness Ecologist for the Izaak Walton League. He helped draft the Wilderness Act of 1964 and identify lands later protected under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which set aside 104 million acres as national parks, wildlife refuges and forests. He was instrumental in the establishment of Voyageurs National Park, which he named. Olson's proudest moment may have come in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed a law granting full wilderness protection to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
  • Sigurd Olson biographer David Backes writes, "Olson was, in many respects, a second John Muir, the famous turn-of-the-century writer and conservationist who founded the Sierra Club. The similarities are striking.... Muir's theology, like Olson's, arose out of direct, joy- and wonder-filled experiences in nature, with subsequent reflection and reading giving form and adding nuances to those experiences. And Muir's evangelism, like Olson's, was devoted to helping people discover the sacredness of creation and their own connectedness to it."
  • Olson received the Sierra Club's highest honor, the John Muir Award, in 1967.
  • According to a letter John Muir collector Marshall Watkins wrote to Muir's daughter Helen in 1961, Olson had told Watkins that John Muir had influenced him more than any other person. But ascribing this much importance to Muir, according to Olson biographer David Backes, appears exaggerated. Backes writes: "Surprisingly, Olson seems to have read very little of Muir. In Open Horizons, he describes reading Muir during his youth, but there is no indication in his published writings or in his private papers that he read Muir as an adult. Muir is mentioned only in passing in Sigurd's journals."
  • Sigurd Olson wrote: "No greater challenge faces us than to preserve some places of quiet and beauty for the sanity of mankind."
  • The Library Journal, in reviewing Olson's autobiography Open Horizons, states, "Olson's adventures are all recalled with freshness and vibrancy reminiscent at times of the writings of the great John Muir."
Portrait photograph of Sigurd F. Olson courtesy of David Backes.

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