Conservationist who championed Alaska lands act dies at 103

Former Sierra Club president helped create new national park land

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - Dr. Edgar Wayburn, a five-term president of the Sierra Club who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for working to preserve vast tracts of U.S. wilderness, has died. He was 103.

Wayburn died Friday at his home in San Francisco, surrounded by family, the Sierra Club said.

Wayburn, a physician who conducted his conservation work under the radar and largely in his spare time, spearheaded successful efforts to greatly expand national parks.

"He was the 20th century John Muir," Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club's deputy executive director, said in a statement. "He enlisted the help of presidents, cabinet members, powerful members of Congress, mayors and millions of Americans and would not take no for an answer."

Working with his wife Peggy, who died in 2002, Wayburn helped win passage of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created millions of acres of national parkland, almost doubling the system's land.

The Wayburns' work resulted in the creation and expansion of Redwood National Park in Alaska.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Wayburn led the movement to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco, a linked system of beaches, coastal woods and Alcatraz island.

His work also helped in the 1962 creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the preservation of the Marin Headlands, the green rolling hills just north of Golden Gate Bridge.

Wayburn said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview in 2005 that he first viewed those open spaces north of San Francisco in the 1940s and was inspired to protect them.

"It seemed incredible to me that there were no cities or suburbs built on those Marin hills, so close to San Francisco," Wayburn told the paper. "I wondered how long that miracle would last."

President Bill Clinton awarded Wayburn the Medal of Freedom in 1999, the country's highest civilian award, saying he had "saved more of our wilderness than any person alive."

In his later years, Wayburn fought what he believed to be the "over commercialization" of Yosemite National Park.

"As we destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves," Wayburn said in 1995 after receiving the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism.

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