There’s nothing quite as enchanting as time spent in the great outdoors, but every time you pack up your supplies to visit a new campground or to hike a new trail, remember the outdoorsmen who made the experience possible. These famous men played an important role in conservation, survivalism and the naturalist philosophy, building a rich outdoor inheritance through their works.
No single name conjures up an image of a tough, savvy outdoorsman more than John Muir. If you’ve never heard of the legendary environmentalist and botanist, you’ve probably enjoyed his handiwork–he founded the Sierra Club, a national preservation society that strengthened early demand for national parks. If Muir hadn’t spent years hiking through Western forests and writing impassioned pleas to important politicians, the United States might have never encountered the concept of a “national park.”
Muir spent more time hiking and exploring than at home, and his writings are some of the most influential naturalist works of the 20th century. The John Muir Trail, a legendary 210.4 mile trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is named after Muir.
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the 26th President of the United States, but you might not realize how important Teddy was to the naturalist movement. He was the first President to draw national attention to conservation.
An avid hunter and camper, Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service and conserved about 230 million acres of land through executive orders and political pressure.
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received,” Roosevelt said, “and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
William Dickson Boyce
Boyce played an instrumental role in starting the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that has promoted camping and survival skills since the early 1900s. Boyce claimed that he was inspired by a young scout he’d met in London who helped him find his way home through the thick London fog.
An outdoorsman by nature, Boyce made sure that the BSA emphasized outdoor activities. He promoted self reliance and courage, and he contributed a great deal of his own energy and love of nature to the Scouts’ public image.
Henry David Thoreau
It’s difficult to discuss naturalism without crediting the man whose prose inspired millions of people to seek a simpler, more natural way of life. Thoreau’s masterwork, Walden, details his experience in rejecting the city life in favor of a cabin on the edge of Walden pond.
Thoreau wrote about farming, solitude, philosophy and much more, inspiring future generations to head outdoors for a more fulfilling life.
James W. Whittaker
Mountaineers know James W. Whittaker for his most famous feat: he became the first American alpinist to summit Mt. Everest in 1963, despite running out of oxygen along the way. Whittaker planted the American flag on the summit and earned worldwide recognition for his feat along with the other members of Norman Dyhrenfurth’s team.
In 1965, Whittaker led Robert Kennedy up Mount Kennedy in Canada’s Yukon. The explorer later became CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., which regular campers now know as REI, and became a prominent member of Magellan Navigation’s Board of Directors.
In 1990, Whittaker again summited Mt. Everest as part of the Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb and cleaned up the mountain on his way by disposing of trash on the route he’d established almost four decades prior.
Whittaker also gave us a quote that sums up the outdoorsman experience.
“If you aren’t living on the edge,” Whittaker says, “you are taking up too much space.”