He may be better known in America than in his native country, but a new national foot- and cycle path bearing the name of John Muir, the founding father of the modern environmental movement, has been opened in his Scottish birthplace.
The First Minister, Alex Salmond, opened the 134-mile John Muir Way on Monday, with a flare being fired from a lifeboat to signal that people could begin their journey on the path, which winds its way from coast to coast via Edinburgh. It is estimated that 195,000 people will attempt to tackle a section of the seven- to 10-day walk or cycle over the next five years, creating hundreds of jobs and generating more than £1.4m in tourist revenue.
Muir was born in Dunbar, east of Edinburgh, in 1838 and sailed to the United States with his family from Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde at the age of 11.
The two ports will provide the start and finishing point for the trail, which passes through Scotland’s central belt and is nearly 40 miles longer than the popular West Highland Way.
Muir is renowned for being one of America’s greatest thinkers and activists. The naturalist helped successfully to lobby for the creation of the country’s first national parks at Yosemite Valley and Sequoia as part of his mission to be “saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism”.
In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club, the US’s largest grass-roots environmental organisation, which has helped to pass landmark legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Muir also persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt of the importance of the landscape during a backwoods camping trip in Yosemite in 1903.
As Mr Salmond pointed out on Monday, Muir is “celebrated in an annual commemorative day in California and his image has featured on two US postage stamps”.
Mr Salmond added: “John Muir was a remarkable Scot – a man whose passion for nature and the outdoors left an incredible environmental legacy.
“From humble beginnings in Dunbar, his influence spread across the world and his name now adorns parks, glaciers and mountains.”
Part ecological philosopher and part prophet, Muir was also a mountaineer, geologist and inventor. He once said: “I could have become a millionaire, but chose instead to become a tramp.”
The new path will mark the centenary of his death, in December 1914, aged 76. It is also hoped it will help a new generation of Scots to engage with nature as well as promoting ecological tourism.
Mike Cantlay, the chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The route takes visitors on a journey to areas they may have never experienced before, opening up the countryside for people to explore tranquil nature reserves, medieval castles, Roman ruins, hidden rivers and much more.”