West Coast
September 13, 1962. JFK signs the enabling legislation for Point Reyes National Seashore. Last month the National Park Service released a management plan that would expand cattle ranching within the borders of this park and introduce sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and row crops, all at the expense of native wildlife and natural habitat. Abbie Rowe / White House

CA - Reflections On 58 Years of Point Reyes National Seashore

For the entire history of the park, two disparate ideals of land stewardship, protection vs. production, have faced off. Right now production has the upper hand.

As a boy I was witness, a fly on the wall, to the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore. Through the prolonged labor that preceded the birth of this extraordinary park, I became acquainted with the cast of characters who fought to bring it into existence — the first, and still the only, national seashore on the West Coast.

In the photograph above, surrounding President Kennedy as he signs the seashore into law, are a number of familiar faces. The tall, graying man on the far right is most familiar, my father, David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club. At this gathering he represents the environmental movement, as that cause has yet to be named. For now the term for him is “conservationist.” In seven years he will found Friends of the Earth, which will grow to 75 sister organizations in nations around the world. In 20 years he will found Earth Island Institute, with nearly 80 environmental projects worldwide.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, in his “conservationist” incarnation, he threw the resources of the Sierra Club into the campaign to make Point Reyes a national park and he lobbied for that designation on both coasts. He edited, designed, and published a Sierra Club book, Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula, by the great environmental reporter Harold Gilliam, whom he persuaded (“relentlessly needled,” in Gilliam’s words) to write the text. He wangled a foreword from Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. He ran the text and layout by me, his 14-year-old son.

It was my father’s custom, whenever one of his Sierra Club books had a bearing on green legislation, to grease the skids by passing out copies to Congress. Island in Time is everywhere in this photograph. Secretary Udall, third from the left, holds his copy in hand. Congressman Clem Miller of California, author of the Point Reyes legislation and the point man in the campaign for the park, stands at JFK’s left shoulder with the book under his arm.

Congressman Wayne Aspinall of Colorado, farthest left, has laid his copy down on the Resolute Desk.

None of the 13 men pictured here is alive. The John Kennedy of this photo has a year and nine days left before his assassination. Congressman Miller, who suspected that this moment — creation of the park — would be the highpoint of his career, has just 28 days left before the plane crash that kills him. Old age has claimed the rest. We can no longer quiz any of these men about their feelings that day in the Oval Office, or their intent in framing this legislation, or their hopes for Point Reyes National Seashore. This is unfortunate, for these are questions being debated today.

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