Storytelling and Public Lands
In 1916, when Steve Mather and Horace Albright founded the National Park Service, they imbued their new agency with the stories of essential heroes (like John Muir in Yosemite and John Wesley Powell in the Grand Canyon), ideas (such as America’s Best Idea of the national park inspired by the grandeur of the the American West), and stories of what their agency’s lands could do for America.
Other public-land formats—such as national forests, national monuments, and lands of the Bureau of Land Management—don’t have such well-known stories. Why not? And if they did, what might these stories look like? In a 40-minute lecture and prompt for discussion, John Clayton, author of Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands, examines elements of storytelling and how they apply to the public land debate. He shares examples of stories from the world’s first national forest (quick: where was it?) to the creation of Muir Woods to the alliance of rivals John Muir and Gifford Pinchot on the shores of Glacier’s Lake McDonald. Audiences will gain an appreciation for the role of story in shaping public opinion, and the tools to understand and shape such stories themselves.
John Clayton is a nonfiction writer who is particularly drawn to the intersection of history, nature, and culture. His book Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon won the High Plains Book Award. His previous books include The Cowboy Girl: The Life of Caroline Lockhart and Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier. He often writes for the Montana Quarterly and Big Sky Journal, among other magazines. This presentation draws from his latest book, Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands.