Dr. Edgar Wayburn (AP Photo)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Dr. Edgar Wayburn, a five-term Sierra Club president who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for working to preserve vast tracts of U.S. wilderness, has died. He was 103.
Wayburn died Friday at his home in San Francisco, surrounded by family, the Sierra Club said.
Wayburn, a physician who conducted his conservation work under the radar and largely in his spare time, spearheaded successful efforts to greatly expand national parks.
"He was the 20th century John Muir," Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club's deputy executive director, said in a statement. "He enlisted the help of presidents, cabinet members, powerful members of Congress, mayors and millions of Americans and would not take no for an answer."
Working with his wife Peggy, who died in 2002, Wayburn helped win passage of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created millions of acres of national parkland, almost doubling the syst em's land.
The Wayburns' work resulted in the creation and expansion of vast national parks in Alaska.
In the 1950s and '60s, Wayburn led the movement to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco, a linked system of beaches, coastal woods and Alcatraz island.
Wayburn also helped in the 1962 creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the preservation of the Marin Headlands, the green rolling hills just north of Golden Gate Bridge.
Frank Dean, acting superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, worked with Wayburn in his early days with the park service. Dean was impressed the doctor continued working hard on local parks issues even after having achieved so much nationally.
"He was a very successful physician, he didn't have to jump in and do anything. But he decided to volunteer his time and make a difference, it's a testament to what one person can do if they put their mind to it," Dean said .
Wayburn said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview in 2005 that he first viewed those open spaces north of San Francisco in the 1940s and was inspired to protect them.
"It seemed incredible to me that there were no cities or suburbs built on those Marin hills, so close to San Francisco," Wayburn told the paper. "I wondered how long that miracle would last."
President Bill Clinton awarded Wayburn the Medal of Freedom in 1999, the country's highest civilian award, saying he had "saved more of our wilderness than any person alive."
In his later years, Wayburn fought what he believed to be the "over commercialization" of Yosemite National Park.
"As we destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves," Wayburn said in 1995 after receiving the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism.
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