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John Muir's Birthplace Interpretive Center

Sierra Club Comment Letter

August 24, 2001

Peter Collins, Director of Planning
Neil Sutherland, Planning Officer
East Lothian Council
John Muir House

RE: John Muir's Birthplace

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have been requested to respond to the currently debated plans for the development of new interpretive design for the birthplace of our founder, John Muir, in Dunbar, Scotland. Since our founding in 1892, our mission has been to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth. In fulfilling that mission, we have been constantly inspired by the ongoing legacy of John Muir, including his writings and his spiritual legacy, which we believe, will live forever. To honor John Muir's memory, the Club engages in an ongoing effort to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.

We are not only involved in conservation priorities in the United States and Canada, but also have international concerns, and have in fact partnered with the John Muir Trust in Scotland to help preserve some of your nation's great wildlands. Our goal in all these efforts is to fulfill John Muir's dream "to make the mountains glad."

There appear to be valid points to be made on both sides of this issue, and how you wish to deal with your historic properties will be a policy matter for you to decide. Nor are we experts in interpretive planning to advocate one side or the other in how interpretive structures are physically designed. On that issue, reasonable minds may differ. We believe that both sides of this debate are people of good will who both wish to do what is best to honor John Muir's memory and his ongoing call to protect the environment. That so many people have become aware of this issue is a very good thing, and hearing so many points of view we hope will help inform your process.

What we would like to do is to provide some guidance of what the Sierra Club would like to see in any interpretive center at Muir's birthplace, regardless of structural design. In our view, it would be a mistake to make John Muir's birthplace a "shrine" that celebrates the building rather than the man and his legacy. We would like to see the ultimate design promote what John Muir achieved in his lifetime and how his words and deeds have inspired generations of people down to the present day. We ask you to focus not on the building, but on the heritage of John Muir, his life and the story of conservation. John Muir did not really die in 1914; his life and message still inspires us and encourages people to carefully safeguard the planet. To that end, the outline interpretive plan proposed by the John Muir Birthplace Trust appears to contain the essential elements of this concept.

On the other hand, maintaining one room or a display with Victorian period pieces to appear as it might have in Muir's time is not incompatible with this goal. We also believe it is important to preserve the original architectural and cultural integrity of the building. We would only hope that the primary focus of the design conveys the message of John Muir's life and legacy, and inspires people to preserve the planet. In our view, the best of both worlds would be to simply provide for both kinds of displays in Muir's birthplace.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this proposal.


Carl Pope
Executive Director
Sierra Club

cc: Councilor Norman Hampshire, Chairman, John Muir Birthplace Trust
Graham White, Save John Muir House Campaign

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