Creating a League of Citizen Scientists for the Ocean

A playbook for turning administrative headwinds into lasting marine conservation and protection.

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Rose Island. NOAA photo by Hatsue Bailey

A Brief History of the National Parks

When most people think of the origin of the national parks, they rightfully think of John Muir, the bearded naturalist who inspired so many people to care about the land and to believe in the idea that these landscapes should be spared from development and protected for future generations. They also think of Teddy Roosevelt, who created dozens of national parks, millions of square miles of public land, and established the US Forest Service. There’s a great story of Muir taking Roosevelt completely off the grid for four days of hiking and camping in Yosemite. It’s our fairy tale memory of the National Park origins. The camping story is true, but it’s not complete. There were many other important moments and players before and after. Especially after.

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John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather
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Sylvia Earle, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama

1. Focus on Engagement

Build an architecture for participation. Stephen Mather took a group of people from different backgrounds into the woods. He took them hiking for ten days in Kings Canyon in California. He showed them first hand what these places meant. At lunch on the final day of the trip, he looked around the table and said:

2. Build the Infrastructure

Around that time, 1914, the automobile was just blooming in American culture. Across the country, people were getting cars. Stephen Mather used that momentum. He knew that if people didn’t go to these places, they wouldn’t care about them. So he partnered with highway associations and built beautiful highways going out to these parks. It was an innovative idea, and it worked. They basically invented car camping. They wove it into the American psyche. It wasn’t anything people had imagined before. They brought it to life.

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Photos: Zion National Park and Ash Mountain Entrance Station, NPS

3. Visionary Philanthropy

Mather himself had been a successful business man in Chicago, and he had a number of wealthy friends who used their resources for the cause. Anytime a highway association needed funding, they were there—they stepped in and paid for it. Anytime there was a tract of land that was up for review; they would buy it. One example: William Kent recognized that there was a patch of redwoods — the only one left in Marin County in California — so he bought and donated it. This area became Muir Woods, one of our most famous and celebrated places in the country — a national treasure that was nearly lost.

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Photo: Mather and Kent, Muir Woods National Monument, NPS
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Photo: Heal the Bay
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Entrepreneur and writer working at the intersection of science, conservation, and technology.

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