John Olmsted was my father, and although the obvious nods are to John Muir and distant cousin Frederick Law Olmsted, when it comes to conservationism and parks, there really was no one like him.
He began his formal work clambering around the creeks and canyons of Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains, studying and recording the flora and fauna in incredible detail, before heeding the call north, accepting a position in Golden Gate Park as a botanist at Strybing Arboretum.
But formal positions and paychecks were not to be his future, it was while leading hikes on the Mendocino Coast when he met famous soil scientist Dr. Hans Jenny, and learned of the unique Pygmy Forest. He would go on to become a parks' crusader, purchasing land and preserving parks beginning with Jug Handle Reserve in Caspar, building the wheelchair-accessible Independence Trail in Nevada City, establishing the South Yuba River State Park System and Bridgeport covered bridge, all in all preserving 11 major parcels across California.
His Across California trips with school kids and instructors in the 1970's were legendary, utilizing the fledgling Oakland Museum of California as an 'indoor museum,' with his Earth bus trips as the complementing outdoor version. Beginning at the Berkeley Pier, these trips included stops at estuaries, adobes, forts, parks, and trails, and it was on these trips that his life's dream took on a distinct shape. Although he is compared to many other land stewards and environmentalists, John's goal of education was always front and center, as he, like his father before him, UCLA and UCR professor John Whipple Olmsted, was at heart, always a teacher.
When he read of John Muir's famous 1868 walk from San Francisco to Yosemite he was hooked, and attempted his own hike 100 years later. He found, not surprisingly that the suburbs and freeways that had altered the landscape since Muir's walk made it nearly impossible, and spent his life establishing a more suitable path.
The land that he went on to preserve and "un-develop" follows roughly the path of highway 20, from the picturesque coast of Mendocino, through Redwood Forests, across the inner coast range, to the central valley, up the foothills of the northern Gold Country, over Donner Summit and down to Lake Tahoe.
It is now our goal to make his trail real.
Thanks and remember - Keep California Wild!