Muir Woods National Monument

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Muir Woods National Monument
IUCN Category III (Natural Monument)
Muir Woods National Monument
US Locator Blank.svg
Location: Marin County, California, USA
Nearest city: San Francisco, CA
Coordinates: 37°53′19″N, 122°35′12″W
Area: 554 acres (2.24 km²)
Established: January 9, 1908
Visitation: 775,941 (in 2005)
Governing body: National Park Service

Muir Woods National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service in Marin County, California, 12 miles north of San Francisco. It is part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area which also includes Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason, Fort Point National Historic Site, Marin Headlands, Nike Missile Site, and the Presidio of San Francisco. It protects 554 acres (2.24 km²) of forested area populated by Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), one of the last remaining stands in northern California.

While much of California's forests have been used for commercial purposes, Muir Woods has been preserved, allowing the natural benefits of climate control, water retention, ecological value, and aesthetic and recreation usage to remain. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful forest preserves in the world.

Though it wasn't John Muir himself who secured this forest land for preservation, it is fitting that this site be named for him. It was his vision of nature's value for its own sake and for its spiritual, not just practical, benefits to humankind that helped to change the way we look at the natural world.

Contents

Geography

Muir Woods National Monument is an old-growth coastal redwood forest. Due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the forest is regularly shrouded in coastal fogs, contributing to a wet environment that encourages vigorous plant growth. The fog is also vital for the growth of the redwoods as they use moisture from the fog during the dry summer.

The location is cool and moist year round with average daytime temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 21 °C). Rainfall is heavy during the winter while summers are almost completely dry, with the exception of fog-drip caused by the fog passing through the trees. Annual precipitation in the park ranges from 39.4 inches (1,000 mm) in the lower valley to 47.2 inches (1,200 mm) higher up in the mountain slopes.

Looking up at coastal redwoods.
Sunlight shining through redwood trees in Muir Woods

The redwoods grow on brown humus-rich loam which may be gravelly, stony or somewhat sandy. This soil has been assigned to the Centissima series, which is always found on sloping ground. It is well drained, moderately deep, and slightly to moderately acidic. It has developed from fine-grained sandstone and shale. More open areas of the park have shallow gravelly loam of the Barnabe series, or deep hard loam of the Cronkhite series.

Flora

The star attraction of the Muir Woods is the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). These relatives of the Giant Sequoia are known for their height. While redwoods can grow to nearly 380 feet (115 m), the tallest tree in the Muir Woods is 258 feet (79 m). The average age of the redwoods in the Monument are between 500 and 800 years old with the oldest being at least 1,100 years old.

While overshadowed (and shaded) by their tall cousins, other tree species grow in the understory of the woods. Three of the most common are the California Bay Laurel, the Bigleaf Maple and the Tanoak. Each of these species has developed a unique adaptation to the low level of dappled sunlight that reaches them through the redwoods growing overhead. The California Bay Laurel has a strong root system that allows the tree to lean towards openings in the canopy. The bigleaf maple, true to its name, has developed the largest leaf of any maple species, allowing it to capture more of the dim light. The tanoak has a unique internal leaf structure that enables it to make effective use of the light that filters through the canopy.

Fauna

Two species of the salmon family spawn each winter in Redwood Creek, which runs through the Monument: Coho or silver salmon and Steelhead Trout.

Muir Woods is home to over 50 species of birds. This relatively low number is due to the lack of insects, which are repelled by the tannin in the trees. The volume of flowers and fruits produced by plants below the canopy is limited by the shade of the redwoods.

It is occasionally possible to see Northern Spotted Owls or pileated woodpeckers in the forest. While decreasing in numbers elsewhere, the Spotted Owls appear to be thriving in the Monument and other evergreen forests in the area. A National Park Service owl-monitoring project is ongoing within the Monument. The project has found that adult owls are finding mates, raising young to adulthood and the young are having new broods of their own.

The Monument is home to a variety of mammals ranging in size from the American Shrew Mole to much larger deer. The majority of the mammals are not seen, as they are nocturnal or are burrowing animals living under the ground or the dense litter on the forest floor.

Bears once roamed this area but had not been seen again until 2003 when a male black bear was spotted wandering in various areas of Marin County, including Muir Woods.

There are 11 species of bats that call the Monument home, often time using hollows burned into the redwoods by past fires as a maternity colony.

History

Undergrowth of a redwood canopy demonstrating the deep shadow under the trees. Note the clearing in the background showing other trees growing in the light.

One hundred fifty million years ago ancestors of redwood and sequoia trees grew throughout the United States. Today, the Coast Redwood can be found only in a narrow, cool coastal belt from Monterey, California to Oregon.

Before the logging industry came to California, there were an estimated two million acres (8,000 km²) of old growth forest containing redwoods growing in a narrow strip along the coast.

By the early twentieth century, most of these forests had been cut down. Just north of the San Francisco Bay, a valley named "Sequoia Canyon" remained uncut, mainly due to its relative inaccessibility.

This did not go unnoticed by U.S. Congressman William Kent. He and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent purchased 611 acres (2.47 km²) of land from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company for $45,000, with the goal of protecting the redwoods and the mountain above them.

In 1907, a water company in nearby Sausalito planned to dam Redwood Creek, thereby flooding the valley. When Kent objected to the plan, the water company took him to court to attempt to force the damming project to move ahead. Kent sidestepped the water company's ploy by donating 295 acres (1.2 km²) of the redwood forest to the Federal Government, thus bypassing the local courts.

On January 9, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a U.S. National Monument, the first to be created from land donated by a private individual. The original suggested name of the Monument was the Kent Monument but Kent insisted the Monument be named after naturalist John Muir, whose environmental campaigns helped to establish the national park system.

"This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." Conservationist John Muir in describing the majestic coast redwoods of Muir Woods.[1]

In December 1928, the Kent Memorial was erected at the Kent Tree in Fern Canyon. This tree—a Douglas fir, not a redwood—was said to be Kent's favorite. Due to its height of 280 feet (85 meters) and location on a slope, the tree leaned towards the valley for more than 100 years. According to the National Park Service, storms in El Niño years of 1981 and 1982 caused the tree to tilt even more, and took out the top 40 feet (12 m) of the tree. During the winter of 2002-03, many storms brought high winds to Muir Woods causing the tree to lean so much that a fissure developed in January 2003. This fissure grew larger as the tree slowly leaned more and more, forcing the closure of some trails. In March 2003 the tree fell with a thunderous boom, damaging several other trees nearby. The closed trails have since been reconfigured and reopened.

In the spring of 1945, delegates from 50 countries met in San Francisco to draft and sign the United Nations Charter. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, shortly before he was to have opened the United Nations Conference. On May 19, the delegates held a commemorative ceremony in tribute to his memory in Muir Woods' Cathedral Grove, where a dedication plaque was placed in his honor.

In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed and park attendance tripled, reaching over 180,000. Muir Woods is one of the major tourist attractions of the San Francisco Bay Area, with 776,000 visitors in 2005.

On January 9, 2007, the superintendent for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area confirmed that Muir Woods would be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation, made to honor its historical role in the birth of the modern conservation movement, was celebrated on January 9, 2008.[2]

Park Service

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods, but he cannot save them from fools - only Uncle Sam can do that." — John Muir in 1897 about the vanishing redwoods, words that still resonate today.[2]

Muir Woods, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a park which caters to pedestrians. Hiking trails vary in the level of difficulty and distance.

One of the paved trails in Muir Woods

There are no camping or lodging facilities in the Muir Woods; the Monument is a day-use area only. There are camping facilities in the adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park.

The monument has a number of paved walking trails on which visitors can walk amidst the magnificent giants. Additional unpaved walking trails lead up the hills to connect with trails outside of the Monument boundaries.

There are ranger-led walks on a number of different topics, including discussions on the watershed, wildflowers, and tidepools. Moonlight walks are held on nights with a full moon.

The annual Dipsea Race, a footrace which goes between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach, passes through Muir Woods on the second Sunday in June. The Double Dipsea, later in June and the Quad Dipsea, in November, follow the same course.

Weddings are allowed in the Monument with a proper permit.

Notes

  1. National Park Service, Muir Woods Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Peter Fimrite, January 10, 2008 Muir Woods named to National Register of Historic Places San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 15, 2008.

References

  • Aramark. Muir Woods National Monument Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  • Auwaerter, John E., and John F. Sears. 2006. Historic resource study for Muir Woods National Monument: Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Boston, Mass: Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service.
  • Hart, John. 1991. Muir Woods, redwood refuge. San Francisco: Golden Gate National Park Association. ISBN 9780962520648
  • National Park Service. Muir Woods Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  • Stewart, John. 1975. Winds in the woods: the story of John Muir. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. ISBN 9780664325565
  • US NPS Lodging. Welcome to Muir Woods Lodging! Retrieved May 15, 2008.

External links

All Links Retrieved May 10, 2008.

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