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The Annual Scottish Sustainable Transport Event: "The John Muir Way" by Keith Geddes, Chair, Central Scotland Green Network Partnership Board - Edinburgh Meeting of 4 December 2012

"One of only 14 national developments in the Second National Planning Framework published in 2009, the Central Scotland Green Network is a long-term project across 19 local authority areas of post-industrial heritage, pockets of multiple deprivation and development pressures that by 2050 will ensure that the environment adds value by delivering a strategic network of high quality routes for active travel and recreation so that every home is within 300 metres of an attractive green setting, with a three-fold increase in community growing land.

Explorer, inventor and glaciologist John Muir 1838-1914 was a friend of US Presidents and the "father of conservation" as founder of the Sierra Club which spawned Friends of the Earth. He said of himself that he "could have been a millionaire but chose instead to be a tramp", and his fondness of wild places began during his childhood in Dunbar where his father a strict fundamentalist had inherited a grain business from a deceased wife.

Those years saw the opening of the town's Victoria Harbour in 1842 and the East Coast railway in 1846, and it was by train that the family headed in 1849 for the ship which would enable them to count among the 2M Scots that emigrated to the USA during 1830-1914. Today his home in Dunbar commemorates those childhood days as the John Muir Birthplace Trust Museum.

His father allowed nothing but the reading of the Bible until at 16 John was deemed old enough to rise early for study. Inventing the self-setting sawmill and early rising machine, he was invited to enrol at the University of Wisconsin where he studied chemistry, botany and geology, teaching in winter at a rural school and working in summer on a farm until an accident temporarily deprived him of sight. He vowed then to devote his life to the study of God, walking to the Gulf of Mexico as he sang Burns songs.

Visiting the Yosemite valley, he declared that "here I can stay tethered forever on just bread and water", and worked for a time as a shepherd and at a sawmill but on returning was outraged by the destruction of timber and the damage caused by that "hoofed locust" the sheep. Helping found the National Park Service, he helped convince President Teddy Roosevelt that Yosemite should be a National Park but lost his final battle to avert the flooding of the Hetch Hetchey Valley.

Today John Muir Day occurs each 21 April in California, his writings are celebrated, there is a John Muir Park, the Trail bearing his name runs from Yosemite to Mount Whitney and over thirty schools are named after him. Scottish Natural Heritage are leading with the Central Scotland Green Network on the extension of East Lothian's John Muir Way from its present Fisherrow terminus westwards to Loch Lomond linking into existing trails, and with only a couple of pinchpoints remaining to be addressed marketing has already started with an eye to opening the route on 21 April 2014.

That April will be celebrated as John Muir Month, with a conference on National Parks, a film festival and the launch of a John Muir ale as well as events in East Lothian, and it is hoped that by encouraging people to explore the countryside at their own pace the John Muir Way will bring economic and health benefits along the 108-mile route.

The Scottish Region would like to thank Edinburgh City Council for hosting the event.

Report by John Yellowlees.


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