The California quarter, featuring famed naturalist John Muir, will be released into circulation Monday following a ceremony in Sacramento.
The quarter captures Muir in his element: framed beneath a soaring California condor with an image of Yosemite National Park's Half Dome in the background. It's a fitting image of Muir, whose advocacy for Yosemite and other wild open spaces earned him renown as the father of the modern environmentalist movement and the national parks system.
Much of Muir's work was conducted from Martinez, where he lived from 1880 and considered home until his death in 1914 at age 76. A 14-room mansion Muir and his family moved into in 1890 lives on as part of the federally protected John Muir National Historic Site, which attracts about 30,000 visitors a year.
"This is kind of exciting for little old Martinez here," said David Blackburn, chief of interpretation at the Muir National Site.
"It's hard to say (if the quarter release) will translate into more visits, but it's certainly translating into a higher profile and interest in Muir," Blackburn said.
Muir's writings and explorations helped lead to expanded federal protections for not only Yosemite but also the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Mt. Ranier national parks, and ultimately helped lead to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.
He was one of the founders of the Sierra Club and was its first president, and he was the first to theorize that glaciers created the Yosemite Valley. His name graces dozens of schools, parks, roadways, hospitals and wide-open spaces in California and beyond.
Historians and environmentalists say it's fitting the state's quarter bears Muir's likeness.
"I don't think you'll find too many folks who would quibble with the statement that John Muir is California's most historic person," said Bill Swagerty, director of the John Muir Center for Environmental Studies at University of the Pacific in Stockton.
The Muir Center houses the largest collection of "Muiriana" Muir's writings, photographs, sketches and journals in the world.
The Muir quarter, based on a design by Los Angeles graphic artist Garrett Burke, was selected from a field of more than 8,000 possible designs featuring California icons such as the grizzly bear and the motion picture industry. The field was ultimately whittled down to five finalists depicting images of Muir, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Gold Rush, giant redwoods and waves and the sun.
In selecting the Muir design, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who requested the condor be added to Burke's original design of Half Dome and Muir said the quarter "tells the story of California."
"I am proud that these three images will show California's wildlife, our majestic landscape and our commitment to preserving our golden state for future generations," Schwarzenegger said when the design was unveiled in March.
California's quarter is the 31st to be unveiled as part of a 10-year program by the U.S. Mint to commemorate the order in which states joined the union.
Between 450 million and 500 million California quarters will be released into circulation during the next 10 weeks, said mint spokesman Michael White, and they probably will start turning up in everyday circulation in a couple of weeks.
California will join at least five other states that have included famous people in their quarter designs. Delaware's quarter depicts Continental Congress delegate Caesar Rodney's horseback ride to Philadelphia, where he cast the deciding vote for U.S. independence; New Jersey's coin depicts the famous image of George Washington crossing the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War; North Carolina's quarter (2001) features the Wright Brothers; Alabama's (2003) features Helen Keller; and Illinois' (2003) features a young Abraham Lincoln.
Blackburn said he hopes California's quarter spreads Muir's legacy.
"It still surprises me when people come in here and say, 'Who is this John Muir?'" Blackburn said. "We're all hoping it serves as a catalyst for people as they put that quarter into a parking meter or a pinball machine or laundry machine, it might spur them to at least Google 'John Muir' and figure out 'Who is this guy.'"
Pacific's Swagerty said it's hard to know if Muir himself would be pleased to be on the quarter.
Muir held some distinctly anti-capitalist views and often wrote that "the almighty dollar would trump whenever given the opportunity to desecrate a national wonder," Swagerty said.
Muir also objected when the Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley was named for him in 1908, Swagerty said. Muir probably would have thought it vain to be included on the quarter, he said.
But Yosemite's inclusion would have pleased Muir immensely.
"It was his favorite place and the place he considered the cornerstone of the modern environmentalist movement," Swagerty said. "To have Half Dome on it would be very important to him, whether he was on there walking with that stick or not."
Contact Michelle Maitre at firstname.lastname@example.org.