Following Muir’s Footsteps

child and ladybugJohn Muir's passion for protecting the Sierra Nevada was born from his delight in exploring wild places and observing nature with both an esthetic and a scientific eye. Following Muir's Footsteps is an educational conservation project for schools in the Sierra Nevada region. The program is designed to enhance love and knowledge of the Sierra Nevada, leading to stewardship in youth living in the region. A love of nature and a commitment to protect the environment begins with first-hand, personal interaction with nature and the knowledge that comes from careful observation. There are thousands of school age youngsters in the eighteen county area that comprises the Sierra Nevada and its foothills. Although they live in one of the most ecologically compelling and diverse areas of the world, many are sadly cut off from the natural world around them, unable to differentiate between a hemlock and a pine, unable to fully appreciate the seasonal unfolding of wildflowers in their meadows, unaware of the arrival of the Western Tanager each spring, the first flight of the fledgling Clark's Nutcrackers, or the mystery of tracks in the snow. Yet these are the future citizens and leaders of the region, the people who will some day be making zoning decisions, electing officials, voting on initiatives. If we are to preserve the astounding beauty and diversity of the Sierra Nevada it is essential that we open the eyes of its future citizens and leaders to the beauty and diversity of their own neighborhoods in the most effective, engaging, and personal way possible.

Program Summary How do you open eyes, minds, and hearts? Through direct experience, observation, and mentorship. This program helps youth along the path from love of nature, to knowledge and stewardship. Each school receives a school library set of 25 copies of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. At each school, I give assembly presentations to inspire students about nature in their area and lead classroom workshops for students to inspire them to become experts in local plants and animals and introduce them with nature journaling. I provide the teachers with teacher handbooks and an in-service training on how to use the field guides and conduct field studies with a science journal. I discuss my experiences as a learning disabled student and adult to give hope to struggling students. I further sponsor one mentor teacher from each school to attend the Sierra Nevada Teacher Institute, a week long summer institute about the Biodiversity of the Sierra Nevada and nature journal. The program is great and is making a difference.

How You can Help Following Muir's Footsteps is dependent on donations and grants. I am tremendously thankful for the funding support so far from donors throughout California. Your grants or donations will expand this program to other schools in the Sierra Nevada region. It costs between $2000 and $2500 (cost depends on distance and logistics) to bring this program to one school. Once a we meet our goal, the school will receive the full program. Donations can be made in any amount but consider a full sponsorship for any school you would like to support. Tax deductible donations can be made through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Heyday Institute.  Please contact Kelly Lee at Heyday Institute to make a donation by email or phone at (510) 549-3564 x307. Donors will be identified below or may remain anonymous. Success so Far Following Muir's Footsteps has been a great success, reaching thousands of students and enthusiastically reviewed by students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

"I teach a class of educationally and behaviorally challenged students.  One child in particular is struggling with learning to read and write, and is often greatly frustrated. He has a huge desire to learn, but has expressed being discouraged many times in a number of ways.  On the day of John’s visit, I took my small class to join another group he was working with.  As we joined the group, John was beginning to talk about how he worked to overcome his own dyslexia as a student.  My frustrated learner listened to him with eyes wide.  I was standing a little distance away with several other children in between.  All of a sudden, it seemed a huge light bulb went on in my student’s head.  He turned to me, met my eyes, and slowly and gently pointed to himself, clearly identifying with John’s words.  The moment was a revelation to this child, and clearly gave him hope that he wasn’t alone in his struggles.  As the class went on, this boy was fully involved with all that John presented and asked the students to try.  He was completely engaged.  After class, we walked back to our own classroom and my student asked if he could please write in his journal immediately.  His classmates joined in the request with many “pleases”.  Although we had journal time before John’s visit, it has taken on a more important place in the school day.  This one boy in particular works hard to finish other assignments so he can have extra journal time.  And I am certain this experience with John has contributed to the boy’s increased rate of learning and positive attitude." Barbara Kelley-Special Education Teacher, Bishop Elementary School

"Jack was one of those speakers that brings celebration to a school community. Students of all ages were engaged and involved. Teachers were effusive about the content, assemblies and workshops. One second grade teacher remarked that during their library time after the assembly, all her students checked out books about nature! The workshop he did with our teachers during our staff meeting was well received and again, a celebration– of science, of students, and of the incredible place we live here in the Eastern Sierra." Betsy McDonald, Principal, Bishop Elementary School

"After giving two energetic assemblies to 775 children, John spent the rest of the day teaching five individual classes in my room.  The children's level of involvement was extremely high.  This means they were engaged and focused on John and what he was demonstrating even when there were fifty children in the room!  The students particularly benefited from seeing his personal journals.  John allowed the students to page through his field journals filled with notes and watercolors painted in the field.  Then they watched in awe as he first sketched in blue pencil and then watercolored an animal of their choice in less than ten minutes from start to finish.  They were amazed.  John's message to them was, the more you draw, the better you get at it.  Practice, practice, practice.  John shared with them that he is dyslexic and had a hard time in school due to the difficulty he experienced in learning how to read.  Nonetheless, he is a successful, published artist and author.  What a great example for all students, regardless of their success in academic settings. I hope you will return next year!" Rosie Howard, Musart Teacher, Pine Street School

2009 Mountain Home Charter School: Grant from Sierra Telephone and private donations

2010 Diamond Valley Elementary School (Alpine County), Bridgeport Elementary School, Coleville High School, Antelope Valley Elementary, Lee Vining Elementary. Edna Beaman Elementary, Round Valley Elementary, Big Pine Elementary, Bishop Elementary, Jill Kinmont Boothe School, Home Street Middle School: Grant from Sorensen's Resort, Eastern Sierra Audubon, and Sierra Nevada Conservancy

2011 Ten schools in Tuolumne County: Belleview (3 classes), Soulsbyville Elementary (5 classes), Sierra Waldorf School (4 classes), Twain Harte School (5 classes), Tenaya School (6 classes), Foothill Horizons Outdoor School, Jamestown Elementary (7 classes), Curtis Creek Elementary School (9 classes), Thursday, March 17:  Sonora High School, Chinese Camp School School. Sponsored by TogetherGreen, a partnership between Toyota and Audubon.

Program Details The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, with its wealth of illustrations and information, provides an engaging way for people, especially young students, to develop a love of and respect for wildlife and natural habitats through keen observation. By noting the details of form, structure, and color found in each species, one develops a tremendous appreciation of the diversity found in biological life, feels a need to protect these species, and consequently gains an understanding of the need for conservation efforts. Each school will receive a resource library of copies of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. These books will be loaned out to the students as they embark on guided field trips with their teachers and in their own individual field studies. 

  • 25 copies of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, as a resource library that can be used by all classes in the school for field activities.
  • Full scholarship for one mentor teacher from each school to attend the Sierra Nevada Teacher Institute. a summer institute focusing on Biodiversity studies in the field and the use of field journals. Read teacher testimony about the impact of the program.
  • Teacher Handbooks of activities that tie using the field guides and field studies with student journals to the State of California standards.
  • In-service training for teachers to help them use the field guides in their classrooms.
  • School assembly presentation to inspire students about the diversity and importance of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Nature sketching workshop for students.
  • Special program for learning disabled students to inspire, and give hope from my experience.
  • Evaluation materials.

In return, each school will commit to:

  • Using the resources in the curriculum.
  • Completing and returning an evaluation of the impact of the activities on the students.

For the last two years you have been consulting with local school teachers, principals, and administrators as well as national experts in environmental education. I have talked to many educators and conservation leaders about this project, and find that it has widespread appeal and intense local support. Especially helpful in formulating and guiding this project were Sierra Nevada chapters of the California Native Plant Society and the Audubon Society as well as local conservation groups. Partners

California Institute for Biodiversity (CIB) is committed to using technology to promote understanding of the biological heritage of California. Recognized throughout the state for its scientific accuracy and innovative use of technology, CIB is the creator of Cal Alive!: Exploring Biodiversity. The institute provides both science-based multimedia for students and one and two-day professional development for teachers. CIB organizes the summer teacher institute for mentor teachers from each school.

Heyday Institute occupies a unique niche in the publishing world, specializing in books that foster an understanding of California history, literature, art, environment, social issues, and culture. Our commitment is to enhance California's rich cultural heritage by providing a platform for writers, poets, and other artists, scholars, and storytellers who help keep this diverse legacy alive. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving a wide range of people and audiences, with a commitment to providing a platform for those who help keep California's diverse literary legacy alive. Heyday publishes books of quality and distinction that promote the cultural and natural landscape of California, emphasizing voices of previously unheard authors and artists, as well as overlooked geographic regions, to more fully present the state's literary wealth. The Heyday Institute has agreed to be fiscal receiver of funds for the project without charge or fee, and we have further agreed to supply copies of the Field Guide to schools at a 50% discount.

Sierra Nevada Alliance Since 1993 the Sierra Nevada Alliance has been protecting and restoring Sierra lands, water, wildlife and communities. Our mission is to protect and restore the natural resources of the Sierra Nevada for future generations while promoting sustainable communities. The organization is an Alliance of conservation groups that are based or work in the Sierra Nevada region. There are over eighty member groups that span the entire 400 mile mountain range. The Sierra Nevada Alliance unites individuals and groups behind a common vision. The Alliance envisions a Sierra where natural and human communities coexist in harmony. A Sierra where residents and visitors alike understand and value the unique qualities of the range and protect the places they love.