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Muir's tour an example Valley should follow today

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Muir's tour an example Valley should follow today

Postby ERIC » Fri Apr 11, 2008 2:11 pm

Muir's tour an example Valley should follow today

The Fresno Bee
04/09/08 23:03:19

John Muir, the great wanderer, departed San Francisco on foot in 1868 intent on exploring Yosemite's wonders. His route took him through the Pacheco Pass, where he was transfixed by the bountiful garden in the distance.

Never, Muir would write, had he seen anything quite like the San Joaquin Valley: "a scene of peerless grandeur burst suddenly upon us. At our feet, basking in sungold, lay the Great Central Plain of California, bounded by the mountains on which we stood, and by the lofty snow-capped Sierra Nevada; all in grandest simplicity, clear and bright as a new outspread map."

This beauty -- often taken for granted and sometimes even denied -- illuminates an important pathway.

If we are California's New Frontier, as the demographers and planners say, shouldn't we protect our treasures? And shouldn't we remain a 21st century frontier instead of turning farmland and foothills
into concrete replicas of cities other Californians are trying to escape?

Because the answer to both questions is yes, a third query follows: What will power the Valley economy if we don't embrace growth and the jobs it brings?

We can look to Muir for a piece of the solution. He came, he saw, and he left -- making him one of the Valley's first tourists.

Tourism is the overlooked powerhouse of local industry. Some people think it's hardly worth the bother, generating only minimum-wage jobs. Others say we simply aren't worthy: Who wants to visit Fresno?

We are worthy. And tourism pays.

According to the state's annual travel-impact report, Fresno County visitors spent $1 billion and generated $70 million in local and state taxes in the most recent year. Madera, Kings and Tulare counties had a total of $700 million in tourist spending.

You might be skeptical about the numbers. But when you consider what we have, they appear realistic -- and ripe for growth.

Some of the attractions are the national parks, conventions, beauty pageants, wine tours, the Chaffee Zoo, big-name acts at the Save Mart Center, Kings River rafting, Rogue Festival, Blossom Trail, skiing, hiking, casinos and Fresno State sports.

The nice thing about tourism is that people spend and go home. The industry brings jobs and tax revenue without burdening local services.

Some people get it. One is Russ Widmar, who runs Fresno Yosemite International Airport and decided to add a faux sequoia grove inside the passenger terminal. Crack wise about fake trees, if you like, but the presentation will reinforce Fresno's connection to the Sierra to visitors.

Others who get it: residents protesting the proposed mining of Jesse Morrow Mountain and PG&E's plans to spoil Watts Valley with high-voltage transmission lines and towers. Let other communities foolishly feed at the trough of growth for growth's sake. We should do everything we can to remain a frontier.

You might not have thought about it, but tourism and agriculture -- the backbone of the Valley economy -- go hand in hand.

By preserving prime farm land and maintaining a rural look between cities and towns, we will continue to distinguish the Valley from much of California. The well-maintained farms on the east side produce fruit, and their springtime blooms beckon visitors en route to Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. With worldwide demand for food soaring and unlikely to abate, it'd be crazy to forsake the fine loam for more asphalt, strip malls and subdivisions.

John Muir got it right when he wrote of the Valley: "In this botanist's better land, I drifted separate many days, the largest days of my life, resting at times from the blessed plants, in showers of bugs and sun-born butterflies. ... Never were mortal eyes more thronged with beauty."

The columnist can be reached at or (559)441-6632. Check out his blog at
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