John Muir honoured on US coin

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JOHN Muir, the Scots conservationist who established the United States’ National Park system, has been chosen to appear on the country’s 25-cent coin.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, unveiled the new coin, which bears the image of Dunbar-born Muir looking out over the Yosemite Valley.

The coin, which will go into circulation in 2005, is being produced to commemorate California joining the United States in 1850.

Designed by Gerrett Burke, a Los Angeles graphic artist, the John Muir image was chosen by Mr Schwarzenegger out of 20 designs.

Muir, who first saw Yosemite in 1869, is widely credited with being the father of the US conservation movement and a prolific nature writer.

Unveiling the image, to which he had added a condor, Mr Schwarzenegger said: "Muir has been a role model to generations of Californians and to conservationists around the world. These three images will show California’s wildlife, magnificent landscape, and our commitment to preserving the Golden State for generations."

Born in 1838, John Muir lived in the East Lothian coastal town until 1849, when his family emigrated to Wisconsin.

His love of nature developed during the brief breaks allowed during his upbringing by his strict and religious father. Muir would explore the surrounding countryside. He also had a passion for developing inventions.

The contraptions he created out of hickory wood caught the attention of the state university, and despite being self-educated, he earned a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.

After graduating, he became a traveller and a handyman. In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life.

When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. He immersed himself in the study of nature, turning away from his chosen career.

In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley and into California’s Sierra Nevada. Later, he would write: "Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light ... the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen."

He herded sheep through that first summer and made his home in Yosemite.

By 1871, he had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived his controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley.

Publishing his discoveries and theories in more that 300 articles and ten major books, Muir became famous across the States, while continuing to trek across the country.

Upon discovering the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle, he worked to establish the Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks, earning the title of "Father of the National Park System".

He also helped to found the Sierra Club to protect the Yosemite National Park from stockmen and farmers who were seeking to reduce its boundaries.

Muir served as the club’s president until his death in 1914.

Since then, his reputation as the forefather of the environmentalism has been acknowledged globally.