The late Arthur Quinn said it best in Broken Shore, his perceptive history of the Marin peninsula. Near the end of his masterful narrative, Quinn - a Marin native, friend of poet Czeslaw Milosz, and professor of rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley - observed: "To see the forces of history acting here is to see them acting on a human scale. Here, human faces are not lost in the shadows of monumental inevitabilities."
One thing is certain. Those who laid the foundation for a sustainable future in Marin were not "lost in the shadows of monumental inevitabilities." They were, rather, people who were willing to fight against "inevitable growth and progress" and, through their ideas and actions, preserve the natural resources and beauty of their county for the stewardship of future generations.
One such man was William Kent. Meat-packing heir, conservationist, and congressman, Kent donated the land for Muir Woods to the U.S. government and successfully lobbied Teddy Roosevelt to declare the stand of old-growth redwoods a national monument in 1908. Also instrumental in the creation of Mount Tamalpais State Park, Kent wrote in his memoirs, Reminiscences of Outdoor Life: "It is a sorrow to recall the eyes that no longer enjoy; it is a great satisfaction to think of those who shall come to appreciate what we have loved. ... Children are our best crop. It is good to know that mountain and forest will be there, open and unspoiled for them, so that they may know of nature to the health of their souls."
Was Kent a hard act to follow? Not for Caroline Livermore. The tight-fisted, well-connected "Grand Lady" of Marin environmentalists founded both the Marin Audubon Society and the Marin Conservation League, was instrumental in saving Richardson Bay tidelands for a bird sanctuary, worked to create many of the county's state parks, pushed through Marin's first master plan, fought to save the Marin Headlands, and, among other things, urged national park status for Point Reyes. All in a day's work.
In 1971, three years after Livermore's grand life ended, her labors and the efforts of the many environmentalists she collaborated with and nurtured came to fruition in the form of a groundbreaking Marin Countywide Plan with the provocative title: "Can the Last Place Last?" The report set a tone for future planning in the county, and its text pulled no punches: "The important priority for Marin is that it remain a good habitat for people in an undegraded natural environment" and "Until people realize they, not the environment, must change, environmental quality will be fighting a rear guard action at best."
And the beat continued. Plans for a four-lane freeway, airports, and coastal resorts in West Marin were defeated in the early 1970s. Dr. Marty Griffin was instrumental in creating Audubon Canyon Ranch and other wildlife sanctuaries along the county's coast and baylands. Edgar Wayburn of the Sierra Club - a "foreigner" from San Francisco who often hiked in Marin - worked with another foreigner, U.S. Rep. Phil Burton of San Francisco, to push through Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Phyllis Faber and Ellen Straus were prime movers in establishing the Marin Agricultural Land Trust in 1980, the first such trust in the United States to focus on farmland preservation and a key step toward the creation of a viable organic-farming community in Marin. Mill Valley's Huey Johnson, founder of the Trust for Public Land and former resources secretary for California, continues to develop ideas and organizations that promote green plans for sustainability.
The environmental history of Marin includes the stories of many others too numerous to mention here. This is but a sampling of some of those who - perhaps inspired by the extraordinary beauty of the land around them - decided to shrug off fears of inevitability and hold high the banner for a more sustainable future, a future we can look forward to if we make the right decisions, but one that would have been almost impossible to achieve without the efforts of Marin's pioneer environmentalists.