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Ranger-naturalist Carl leads a children's nature walk across Tuolumne Meadows, circa 1950s, Photo by Douglass Hubbard from Hello World: A National Park Adventure by Fran Hubbard.
WHY NAME A YOSEMITE FEATURE FOR CARL?/ORIGIN OF PROPOSAL
by Len McKenzie, with additions by Bill Jones, both former Chief Park Naturalists, Yosemite National Park and assisted by Linda Eade, Librarian, Yosemite Research Library
WHY NAME A YOSEMITE FEATURE FOR CARL SHARSMITH?
It is easy to find advocates of naming a feature for Carl among the large group of people who were taught by and/or worked alongside him. Persons in this group cite many and diverse reasons why they feel and believe that a Yosemite mountain should bear Carl's name. But of what value will such naming be to people who missed the opportunity to be touched by this dedicated naturalist? Such persons might say, "What for?" and "So what?" to the whole idea. One could answer such doubts by citing the commemorative purpose that naming a mountain would serve for this person who dedicated so much to this region and its visitors. One could also answer such doubts by noting that Carl and his work in his mountains are a part of our history, for he served over 60 seasons in his chosen area, and it is good that history be preserved, especially that which touches a large body of the populace. Another answer could be that, as much as Carl's work led so many to appreciate his landscape, naming a peak for him would remind those yet to come of the inspiration he imparted and the scientific discipline he practiced and instilled in others, and might be led to efforts themselves. And although Carl has left us a legacy of writings, still it is true his forte was in using spoken words, not ones he wrote down, and thus his legacy might be less known to those in the future than if he had made a name in literature or photography as other Sierra contributors have done. It would seem tragic that he would not remain as well known as others and a peak named for him would help avoid this.
Sierra Nevada naming tradition
In the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range where Yosemite National Park is located, it has long been a tradition to name features for persons who contributed to its exploration, preservation, and appreciation. Thus we have Mount Whitney (for the first state geologist and the first geologic explanation of Yosemite Valley's origin), Mount Clark (for the first guardian of the Yosemite and Mariposa Big Trees Grant ), Benson Lake (for an early army officer who patrolled Yosemite National Park), Tenaya Lake and Peak (for Chief Tenaya of the Yosemite or Ahwhaneechee Indians), and Matthes Peak and Lake (for Francois Matthes, early geologist).. There are several Sierra Nevada and other features named for John Muir. Above Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley, there is Mount Watkins (for Carleton Watkins, early Yosemite photographer) and a little south in the Sierra from Yosemite National Park is Mount Ansel Adams and the Ansel Adams Wilderness for another famous photographer with roots in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. We even have Townsley Lake named for a Yosemite chief ranger and Bingaman Lake for a park ranger. Each of these features not only commemorates the work and results obtained by these individuals, but also--and perhaps more importantly--remind us of the history of the range and the park. This provides an educational, or in modern terms an interpretive, role to this naming tradition. Most of the names applied in the park go beyond mere geographic functionality or commemoration, but also remind us of the history of the growth of scientific understanding, the dedication of individuals to their roles of caring for the areas, and of their labor in achieving their results. These aspects educate in that they motivate their followers to greater achievements. The interpretive role is best effected when the work of the named individual is associated with the feature prior to the name being applied.
There are many who feel that naming a Yosemite feature for Carl in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite would be entirely consistent with this Sierra Nevada naming tradition. In fact, they feel that not so naming a feature would be inconsistent with that tradition. Because Carl's role was as a scientist and an educator/interpreter, a feature named for him would remind us now--and those of us in the future--of the importance of such work. Such naming is a logical extension to naming features for explorers and protectors to naming features for interpreters, who in an educational process impart understanding of park values to visitors so they may respect and protect the park features. It has been stated that interpretation (focused education) is the most effective protection, long a basic tent of park management. Carl was not only extremely effective in his own interpretive walks, hikes, seminars, and campfire programs but had a major role in advancing the art of interpretation not only in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, but in the National Park System as a whole. In the history of the range, he has also been a major contributor--probably the major contributor--to the botany of its high mountain environment. His doctoral thesis had this as its subject. Too, for both Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks he authored papers on High Sierra meadow conditions as precursors to National Park Service management of them. But, again, his major influence was as a mentor in direct interaction with individuals. Naming a landscape/map feature for Carl would serve to continue the motivation he instilled in so many to maintain natural landscapes and their processes and to inspire a thirst for natural history knowledge that not only enriches intellects but serves as the basis for intelligent management of the Earth. It would also commemorate him, a goal important to many.
Ranger-Naturalist Carl Sharsmith was admired, effective, inspirational, and had been present in Yosemite and its Tuolumne Meadows area for many, many summers. "Everyone" seemed to think a peak would be named for him someday. There had been other, earlier park managers and rangers whose names had been bestowed on peaks and other features, and it seemed logical to add Carl's name to those so that the name Sharsmith would show on the array of names on the range's maps. This would go beyond mere commemoration; it would also tell of the history of the region. Carl belonged there, it seemed, to many.
At the same time, it is understood by those proposing to name a feature for Carl, that names should be bestowed on mountain features with discrimination and that just because a feature is unnamed is not a reason to give it one. The justification for adding names to the mountains must be compelling; and it is so in Carl's case. Many in favor of naming a feature for Carl have made just this point: that although they are generally against new names for unnamed mountains, in this case they are for it. Yet it is realized that for some, their principle of leaving features unnamed will cause them to withhold support even for a proposal as worthy as this one. And although naming is not fundamentally a democratic process, the abundance of persons in favor of this naming versus the very few who may be against it is strong, even compelling argument for this naming.
ORIGIN OF PROPOSAL--How did a proposal to name a feature for Carl come about?
In a letter of September 8, 1976, Henry Berrey of the then Yosemite Natural History Association (now the Yosemite Association) sought counsel from Dr. Dallas Peck of the U.S. Geological Survey on how to name a peak for Carl, noting "it's my greatest ambition to start the process grinding to have a Yosemite mountain named for him.". Henry and his wife Eileen had recently discussed Carl "...whom we all admire very much" and the naming idea with Marilyn and Bob Fry (Bob is on the Name4Carl Committee). Henry's notion was to honor Carl while he could know of the honor--while Carl was still alive. Henry lobbied for a Congressional resolution to accomplish this naming, with support from the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, rather than going through the Executive Branch of government, for the administrative policies of the Board on Geographic Names would not bestow names until at least 5 years after the namesakes' deaths.
Henry queried Carl on January 4, 1977, regarding Carl's opinion on having a peak named for him Carl responded to Henry January 30, 1977, that he thought a person had to be dead before a peak could be named for someone, but "Anyway, I'm not opposed to your, Bob's, Marilyn's, and Eileen's proposition. Furthermore, to be asked if I have a preference for some one or other point is an honor, too! The one you mentioned (pk. at s. end of Kuna Crest 12,106') would be wonderful. In the 50's...I thought of an un-named peak an airline mile or so southwest of Mt. Lyell. I looked at it more than once when I took parties up Mt. Lyell. It's altitude on my old maps...is about 12,700'. What a dandy one that would be!" Henry marked the peaks on maps (although it is not known whether either was indicated as preferred) and submitted them to Congressman Tony Coelho of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 11, 1980, noting "The significance of this whole affair may seem to be over-blown. But to those who know and love Dr. Sharsmith, it is a very real and important matter. I've lived here nearly 35 years and in my opinion no one connected with the Park is more deserving of this honor nor would anyone respond with greater joy and appreciation."
Another early interest in naming a landscape feature for Carl is recorded in a letter of November 14, 1977, from Richard E. Zscheile of San Jose, California, to Cecil Andrus, Secretary of Interior, as follows: "Your attention is invited to the outstanding career of a ranger naturalist named Carl Sharsmith. In view of the accomplishments during his career I request a mountain peak or lake in Yosemite Park be named after him and consideration be given to award him whatever honor your department has for a career of distinguished service." (For full text of this letter, go to "Summary of Supporting Statements"). Mr. Zscheile had a lasting interest in the naming that is recorded in letters to Yosemite Park Superintendent in 1979 and 1980 and which continues.
Carl is said while in his '70s to have remarked that he and Ansel Adams had a conversation once that whoever died first would get a mountain named for him [letter from George Durkee to Board on Geographic Names dated May 9, 2006.]
Elizabeth S. O'Neill referred to one or more of these early naming proposals in her May/June 1981 article "Walking with Carl" in Sierra, the journal of the Sierra Club: "Some one tried to name a mountain for him--but for that a person has to be dead, and Carl's very much alive."
Over the years following these early proposals, the notion of naming something for Carl continued to be informally discussed. Some talked about it with Carl, and he was pleased with the idea. Various features were considered, most or all having the characteristics of being within Yosemite National Park, in the High Sierra, of an alpine botanical character, and then unnamed. These various proposals are further discussed under "Which feature should be named for Carl?"
Following Carl's death in 1994, occasional conversations and correspondence continued among parties interested in naming a feature for Carl. These parties included his biographer Elizabeth Stone O'Neill, Ranger-Naturalist Bob Fry, Yosemite Association Director Steve Medley, former Chief Park Naturalist Bill Jones, and others. But there was no known active effort. Then late in the year 2003 a reunion of Yosemite people from the pivotal late 1960s--interested visitors and employees--took place in Yosemite Valley, and at that time a survey form was made available to attendees inviting comments on the idea of naming a Yosemite feature for Carl. Interest congealed with several attendees forming a committee to proceed with an active naming effort, using these initial survey results as a guide. These individuals were persons who had a special relationship with other National Park Service people from their roles in Yosemite as naturalists, rangers, and resource managers and who in most cases had further pivotal roles in the Service during their later careers beyond Yosemite such as park managers, planners, and regional directors. Their efforts resulted in formulating an initial proposal. Distractions of life, however, subsequently interrupted progress in this volunteer group, but in 2006 a renewal of purpose began.
ANALYSIS OF CONCERNS ABOUT NAMING A FEATURE FOR CARL
As stated elsewhere in this website, there is vast support for naming a Yosemite peak for Carl. Other views have been expressed, however, shown in quotes below, and are analyzed:
"I do not believe in the proliferation of human names for natural features". How this relates to the proposal: The present proposal to name a feature is for only one feature and not a proliferation. Very few new names have been added to the Yosemite or High Sierra landscape in modern time, and because of the policies on naming features in legislated wilderness, which comprises the vast extent of the park and the High Sierra, very few new names are likely to be established in the future. Further, it is rare that an individual such as Carl Sharsmith appears to motivate a feature naming. The opinion expressed in this view--that natural features should not have human names--is a personal one, and the opposite is expressed in federal naming policy (see below also).
"I am personally opposed to naming any natural feature after any mortal being!" How this relates to the proposal: A glance at maps across the United States reveals that many features bear the names of former mortals, including John Muir, Ansel Adams, Amelia Earhart, Lee Vining, Peter Lassen, San Francisco, Josiah Whitney, John Kennedy, and George Washington, to name a small selection. Thus, federal naming policy has not opposed naming features for former mortals but actually provides for it, with controls.
"In Wilderness [naming a feature] is problematic since the USGS Board of Geographic Names has a policy against naming features in Wilderness, especially after people." How this relates to the proposal: The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has a policy for--not against--naming features in wilderness, but is restrictive. The board's policy provides that names it judges appropriate may be added for safety, management, and education. The point is moot, however, for the peak proposed for naming in the proposal is not within wilderness, but at its edge and therefore is not covered by this aspect of the board's policies.
"Why not name an annual event, such as a botany symposium, after Carl. He would have been much less disapproving of such an appellation." How this relates to the proposal: Attaching Carl's name to an event would also further the purpose of this naming proposal, but would not provide the broad dissemination and endurance that a name on a map would. Too, Carl did not disapprove of having his name on a mountain peak, for it is documented that he stated it would be an honor, as the movement to name a peak for him began almost 20 years before his death in 1994.
Summary: There appears to be a continuum of opinion about naming features that runs the gamut from no new names to some of them. Many of the people who have been in contact with the committee working up the present naming proposal have expressed their wish to generally avoid new names in Yosemite and the High Sierra. Yet the great majority of these has also expressed the opinion that Carl Sharsmith is one who should have a feature named for him, as having sufficient worth to tip their neutral or negative stance on naming--in this one instance--toward favoring it.
This "Why Name a Yosemite Feature for Carl?/Origin of Proposal" page was last modified 11/24/2006 \name4carl\.n4cjust.htm.