Across Observatory Drive there is a small nature preserve named Muir Woods. It stretches down the hill to the shore of Lake Mendota. Muir Woods is named after John Muir, sometimes called the “Father of the National Parks” for his career as a preservationist and co-founder of the Sierra Club. Muir was born in Scotland in 1838 and when 11 years old immigrated to a farm near Portage, Wisconsin. He enrolled at UW in 1860 and lived in North Hall, the large building immediately to your right. Muir left UW in 1863 without graduating, but he remains one of the University’s most famous and storied alumni.
Muir’s childhood was shaped by a deep Protestant piety, and he had memorized the bulk of the Bible by the time he was sixteen. Muir was the president of the major UW campus ministry at that time. He moved away from organized religion as an adult but remained a deeply spiritual Christian who saw his care for creation flow from his understanding of God the Creator. As he wrote in his journal in 1873, “God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore. And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.” As one writer remarked of Muir, “Sequoias, are his cathedral.”
These woods are a memorial to Muir’s contributions to the preservation of wilderness areas in North America. Muir said later in life, “I left one UW for another UW: the University of Wisconsin for the University of the Wilderness.” The woods are also where Muir went to find firewood for his stove in his dorm room in North Hall, and they are where Muir took his first lessons in botany as a student. Today they also help to conjure an image of what the entire southern shoreline of Lake Mendota looked like before extensive human development.
Turn right and head down Bascom Hill. Stop outside the entrance to the Education Building for the next stop.