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A Week Volunteering in Yoemite by Elaine Gorman
A Volunteer's Experience by Keith Martin
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  Photo Albums:
The Beginning of a Friendship: John Muir and Joseph LeConte
Centennial Photo Album
Rededication Photo Album
General Photo Album
Including high-res photos
 
  Downloads:
LeConte Memorial Lodge - First Permanent Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley & Home of the Sierra Club in Yosemite National Park (PDF) by Bonnie Gisel - from Yosemite Guide, May-June, 2012 (PDF)
LeConte Memorial - A Sierra Club Legacy by Elaine Gorman (PDF) (2012)
Memorial Fact Sheet (PDF)
Joseph LeConte Fact Sheet (PDF)
John Muir - Father of Our National Parks brochure
(PDF 2.5 MB )
Huell Howser Video
(Quicktime Movie 48 MB )
 
  Related:
Celebrating a Century of Slack-Jawed Awe
Make a Nature Journal
About Joseph LeConte
'Little Joe' Joseph N. LeConte
1896 Tribute to Dr. LeConte
John Muir Exhibit
Sierra Club History
Oher Sierra Club Lodges
Clair Tapaan Lodge
 
  Off-Site:
Le Conte Memorial Lodge by Steven Finacom
NPS 1985 Theme Study
National Historic Landmark Program

My First Season at LeConte Memorial Lodge

July 13, 2005

by Keith Martin

It was January 28th and the email from Gene Coan caught my attention: “Volunteers needed at Sierra Club’s Home in Yosemite Valley”. The text of the email continued: “The LeConte Memorial Lodge is a one-hundred year old museum, library and visitor center operated by the Sierra Club in Yosemite National Park. We are looking for Sierra Club Members interested in volunteering one week next summer to assist in keeping the doors of the Memorial open to our many visitors…” The message was signed by Bonnie Johanna Gisel, PhD, Curator and included a contact phone number.

I have spent quite a lot of time in Yosemite Valley (rarely in the summer) and have seen the stone Tudor style structure on the south side of the valley opposite the house keeping camps. I had never seen the inside of the Lodge as it was always closed. I had questioned friends about the lodge, and generally got the reply that they had not been in it for years, but their recollections were that it was sort of dark and dusty and had some books and stuff but not very interesting. Never the less, my curiosity had been aroused. I called Bonnie at the contact number and soon found myself volunteering for the week of June 19th to 26th.

The afternoon of Sunday, June 19th was sunny and warm. The falls in the valley were in full splendor their constant thunder echoing off the valley walls. As I entered the LeConte Memorial I was greeted by Bonnie and introduced to Kent Gill, former president for Sierra Club National and 17 year veteran volunteer at the lodge, who was finishing up his week of volunteering. I was immediately impressed by my own misconception of what the lodge was like. Not a dusty, cluttered, disorganized collection of books, but a clean, sparkling gem of an architectural masterpiece, with books, displays, reading areas and children’s corner all tastefully and appealing arranged. A towering fireplace dominated the back wall with a memorial plaque of a contemplative LeConte above the mantel. I received my volunteer packet from Bonnie and then headed over to the volunteer campsites to settle in to my home for the week. That evening I returned to the lodge for the program “Exploring the Wilderness Idea” presented by Kent.

The next two days, Monday and Tuesday, the lodge was closed. I found another volunteer with a desire to do some hiking and together we climbed up to Eagle Peak on Monday and climbed up from the trail head at the Wawona tunnel to the Pohono trail and hiked along it to Glacier Point on Tuesday. With body and mind thoroughly refreshed and exercised, I was ready to undertake my volunteer responsibilities helping to staff the lodge during its open hours from Wednesday through Sunday.

The lodge is open from 10 am to 4 pm Wednesday through Sunday from May 1 to September 20. Evening programs Friday through Sunday. During my week, in addition to Kent’s Sunday evening program, we had “Sacred Ground: 10 Myths about Yosemite” on Friday, “John Muir and University of the Wilderness” on Saturday and “Hetch Hetchy Valley: Yosemite’s Lost Twin” on Sunday. Bonnie is a full time club employee who is assisted through the season by over 120 volunteers who each come for a week as well as evening program speakers for 3 nights each week.

The building was originally built with funds collected by the Sierra Club, but it now belongs to the Park Service. It is on the National Registry of Historic Buildings and celebrated its hundredth anniversary last July 3rd. It is the second oldest building in the valley: the Chapel is the oldest. The Sierra Club has been providing interpretive services in the park since 1898, when it began providing this function under contract to the State of California, before the creation of the National Park. When University of California Geology Professor Joseph LeConte, a charter member of the Sierra Club and close collaborator with John Muir, died in the park in July 1901, at the beginning of the first Sierra Club High trip, his many friends and admirers joined to collect funds for the memorial. They wanted a fitting and permanent testament to LeConte as well as a center for the club’s interpretive services.

The building was designed by John White, who was greatly influenced by the work of his brother in law, Bernard Maybeck and the First Bay Tradition of architecture. Maybeck’s clients included many of the affluent of San Francisco society including members of the Hearst Family. One of Maybeck’s students at the University of California, Berkley was Julia Morgan who designed Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The lodge is cared for by the LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee of the Sierra Club whose members have designed and constructed many of the exhibits. Beginning about 15 years ago, the committee began preparing for the centennial celebration. Their preparations reached full throttle about 5 years ago, when the lodge was given a thorough cleaning from rafters to floor by the Park Service and then the new exhibits and displays designed and installed. In addition to the permanent displays, Bonnie arranges activities during the day.

During my week we had a block painting session for children beginning Saturday morning, and ongoing “Green Shoes” and Nature Journal projects. In past years Bonnie organized the Wilderness Quilt project where visitors painted images on 12 inch square muslin fabric. From the many completed pieces, quilts were assembled, one of which hangs above the door at the lodge, others at the Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco and the John Muir Historical site in Martinez.

Bonnie schedules the volunteers for either a morning session from 10am to 1pm or an afternoon session from 1pm to 4pm. In addition, volunteers help with the evening programs when scheduled. During the day I reveled in interacting with the public visiting the lodge. During a typical 3 hour session, I saw as few as 50 and as many as 150 visitors. The evening programs brought in as many as 90 visitors at a time. Referring to the materials prepared by Bonnie, I answered questions about the lodge, the park, LeConte, Muir and the club as well as encouraging visitors to participate in the Green Shoes and Nature Journal projects. When my session was done, I was occupied in hiking and biking around the valley, fixing meals, getting showers (free for volunteers), participating in stimulating conversations with Bonnie and the other volunteers and sleeping.

Bonnie, who has been the curator since 2002, is a joy to work with. She has degrees in History, Art and Divinity, is a Muir scholar and author, and has extensive experience working with children and adults doing interpretive, educational and historical projects.

Her knowledge of Muir, LeConte and other giants of the early environmental and preservation movement could provide the basis for months of interesting and stimulating conversation. Dealing with the public, the committee, the club, 120 volunteers and many program presenters, she succeeds in interacting with grace and aplomb.

In 2003 a dark cloud passed over the lodge. Republican Congressman George Radanovich of the 19th Congressional district which includes portions of Mariposa County adjacent to Yosemite Park sponsored HR2715 requiring that the lodge be torn down and removed from the park. He was angry that the club was maintaining its historic presence in the park. He reasoned that since the club championed the limiting of grazing in National Preserves and has supported (along with many others) the Yosemite Park’s own long term recommendations which would limit camping and traffic in the valley that they should be sanctioned by demolishing the lodge and reassembling the pieces somewhere else. So far his proposals have provided ample editorial grist (to his detriment) for Central Valley newspapers and have also heightened public awareness of the lodge and its significance. Fortunately his proposals have not found sufficient support in the congress and he is currently distracted by other issues.

I encourage you to visit the lodge at your next opportunity. Admire the architecture. Enjoy the exhibits. Peruse the books and displays. Talk to the volunteers and Bonnie. Look out the windows and admire the trees and rocks through the lens of glass that has slowly flowed and distorted over the span of a hundred years. And for myself? I will be there next year for the week of June 18 through 25.

Keith Martin
Palos Verdes-South Bay Group Chair
Reprinted by permission from the Foggy View, newsletter of the Sierra Club Palos Verde/South Bay Group of the Angeles Chapter, Supplement to the September 2005 Southern Sierran.

Return to Volunteering.


Information and Donations

For more information, during the summer contact Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Curator, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, 1-209-372-4542, e-mail: leconte.curator@sierraclub.org.

During the winter, contact LeConte Lodge Committee Chair, Harold Wood, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93278; phone: (559) 697-3525; e-mail: harold.wood@sierraclub.org

Tax deductible donations to support the new exhibits and renovation efforts of the LeConte Memorial can be made to "Sierra Club Foundation," marked for the LeConte Lodge Fund.


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