The oldest surviving California sequoias are thousands of years old. Sheathed by the fogs that roll in daily from the Pacific, they reach hundreds of feet in height. Ancient specimens once grew in many northern California coastal valleys, but during the 1800s most were logged off. Having lived as a boy in Marin County, William Kent knew and loved the redwoods, and after returning to the area after making money in real estate and livestock in Chicago, he and his wife decided to buy 611 acres of one of the last uncut stands of old-growth sequoia in the Bay Area in 1905. Though located just a dozen miles north of San Francisco, the patch along Redwood Creek was hard to reach and so had been left untouched. They paid $45,000, much of it borrowed. Soon a Sausalito water company had designs on Kent’s land, which it intended to flood and use as a reservoir. It planned to wield condemnation by eminent domain to get the land, and since much of San Francisco had just burned in the fires following the 1906 earthquake, the chances of a water company winning favor in court seemed good.
In an attempt to protect the redwoods, the Kents mailed the deed for 295 acres of their land to the secretary of the interior, asking that President Roosevelt declare the donated tract a national monument, and name it Muir Woods, for conservationist John Muir. A fan of redwoods and an admirer of the Kents’ generosity, and their selflessness in refusing to have the gift named after themselves, Roosevelt acted as requested in 1908. Muir Woods became the first national protected area donated by private individuals. The Kents donated more land to the monument in 1921. Today, Muir Woods National Monument covers 554 acres, adjacent to 6,000 acres of state-protected land, and hosts more than 800,000 visitors each year.
- People behind the Muir Woods National Monument, nps.gov/muwo/historyculture/people.htm