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Muir’s March and the Move to Restore Hetch Hetchy

April 29th, 2012

Mike Marshall of Restore Hetchy Hetchy

With dams coming down on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, and proposed dam removals along the Klamath and Snake rivers, how receptive are San Francisco city leaders to the idea of draining the O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural state?

The answer depends on who you ask. We asked Mike Marshall, the Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy.

The San Francisco-based organization is busy gearing up for it’s annual Muir’s March event, happening this summer from July 29th to August 4th, as Restore Hetchy Hetchy suppotrers walk in the footsteps of John Muir to raise awareness and resources for the campaign to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

The Patron Saint of American Environmentalism

The stature of John Muir in American conservation cannot be overstated. His role in protecting not only Yosemite and the area which became Sequoia National Park, but other sites throughout the American west makes him, according to biographer, Steven J. Holmes, “one of the patron saints of 20th-century American environmental activity.”

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, Glacier Point.

Indeed, the volume of schools and sites named for John Muir throughout California leaves no doubt of the importance of his legacy on the Golden State, and the west.

As Muir aged and became recognized for his lifetime of conservation work, he entered into one of the last great battles of his career. It was a battle which many believe hastened the end of Muir’s amazing life.

The Desecration of a National Park

The location was the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, and the fight was over the dam proposed to be built there by the city and county of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake.

Often referred to as a rival in beauty and stature to Yosemite Valley, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was created over millions of years by the drainage of the Tuolumne River. Writing about Hetch Hetchy, John Muir said, “no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”

Unfortunately, despite Muir’s eloquent words and protests to the federal government, coupled with warnings about how building a dam at Hetch Hetchy and damming the Tuolumne River would forever violate the sanctity of the idea of a National Park, the will of San Francisco’s business community held sway in Congress. Hetch Hetchy became America’s first great conservation battle, but President Woodrow Wilson ultimately signed into law the Raker Act, authorizing construction of the dam, on December 19, 1913.

After working his entire adult life to preserve Yosemite, even famously hiking to Glacier Point with President Theodore Roosevelt a decade earlier, Muir was devastated. In a letter to scientist Vernon Kellogg, Muir wrote “As to the loss of the Sierra Park Valley [Hetch Hetchy], it’s hard to bear. The destruction of the charming groves and gardens, the finest in all California, goes to my heart.”

Just over a year later, on December 24, 1914, John Muir died.

Restore Hetch Hetchy

Mike Marshall is the Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, a San Francisco-based organization which seeks to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural condition, while continuing to meet the water and power needs of all the communities which depend upon the Tuolumne River.

Mike talks about the upcoming Restore Hetch Hetchy ballot measure, the need for San Francisco to at last undertake water recycling (most urban areas in California already have), the resistance of some city leaders and surprising allies Restore Hetchy Hetchy has made along the way, and the long-term use of the Tuolumne River, which will continue to be a water supply for the Central Valley and Bay Area whether or not the O’Shaughnessy Dam remains.

One of the ways which Restore Hetch Hetchy gets their message out about their mission is through their annual Muir’s March event, a multi-day trek through the backcountry of Yosemite National Park, culminating in a rally atop the O’Shaughnessy Dam. This year’s Muir’s March runs from July 29th to August 4th.

Some will march for seven days, some will trek for four, while others will simply join in on the last day for a one-day hike in the O’Shaughnessy Dam area. Each marcher raises a minimum amount of money for Restore Hetch Hetchy prior to their hike or backpack.

Seven day marchers must raise a minimum of $1,900; four day marchers must raise a minimum of $1,100; single-day hikers must contribute $100 for individuals and $190 for families. All proceeds benefit the restoration of Hetchy Hetchy, and all in Muir’s March will march in the footsteps of the great American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir.

Harrison Ford hosts this Restore Hetch Hetchy documentary on the fight to save Hetch Hetchy Valley 100 years ago.

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Muir's March backpackers heading out on the "Backcountry's Backcountry" route.

Few views can match the glacial ice-polished granite of the Sierra Nevada at Yosemite.

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2 Comments so far

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  1. To my Friends at Treehuggers:

    The City of San Francisco dam engineer’s name was Michael M. O’Shaughnessy, spelled with 2 h’s.

    I am not a fan of his poorly sited dam-building accomplishment, hardly, but I believe that we are obliged to honor each other appropriately by spelling one’s last names correctly, however complex the name may be.

    Douglas Harnsberger
    Restore Hetch Hetchy Board Member and Hetch Hetchy Valley Historian

    • Thank you very much for the heads-up on the correct spelling of Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s name Mr. Harnsberger, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ll make the corrections immediately.


      Tommy Hough

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