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Giving a Name to Yosemite Area Peak for Longtime Ranger Carl Sharsmith.
There has been an effort to rename a mountain near Yosemite National Park for long time ranger/naturalist and Yosemite legend, Dr. Carl Sharsmith. I've asked Bill Jones, the lead member of the 'Name4Carl Committee' to provide for us an update on their efforts. Thanks for the wonderful article Bill. ~ Jeremy
YOSEMITE’S SHARSMITH PEAK NAMING STALLS: a status report from the Name4Carl Committee
Proposing Sharsmith Peak
Since at least 1976 an attempt has been made to formally establish the name Sharsmith Peak on a Yosemite National Park summit. In 2003 a group of citizens formed the Name4Carl Committee to complete this task. The federal naming process is prescribed by the Board on Geographic Names of the U.S. Geological Survey and if successful results in use of the name on federal maps and in federal publications.
But today the proposal is stalled.
Is it time to take a new approach?
Dr. Carl W. Sharsmith (1903-1994)
The significance of the life of Carl Sharsmith was that he engaged an estimated 75,000 park visitors over his lifetime as an outdoor educator and park ranger-naturalist, serving in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite National Park. Within virtually each person he met, he instilled a life-long passion for the wonders of Yosemite's high country. He was beloved by the tens of thousands to whom he presented his philosophy and knowledge of nature and he also came to be known nationally as an example of professional interpretation at its best.
Carl was the only ranger naturalist at Tuolumne Meadows from 1931 until 1946. For his work after completing 25 seasons at Tuolumne Meadows, in 1956 he received the Department of the Interior Meritorious Service Award, the highest award the department can bestow on an employee. In 1981, after completing 50 seasons of service, he was the first to receive the Yosemite Award. He continued his passion to work as a park ranger-naturalist at Tuolumne Meadows for 63 seasons, including the summer of 1994, just weeks before his passing at the age of 91. That season he was celebrated as the oldest ranger in the National Park Service.
Carl started the plant herbarium at Washington State University before coming to San Jose State University and establishing an herbarium there, becoming Professor of Botany. Long after his retirement from teaching in 1972, he continued to work at his herbarium. Carl archived much of the High Sierra flora in his plant collections, including the naming of Hackelia sharsmithii. His herbarium contains 15,000 specimens and carries his name. Carl taught several thousands of students the science of botany, plant geography, and plant taxonomy. Many of his students went on to become educators themselves. Some became professionally engaged in research in the environmental sciences. Others became managers and stewards of public lands and/or engaged in conservation activities. Because of his excellence it "was always known" his legacy would some day be recalled by a park peak that would bear his name. Earlier, promoters hoped to get the naming job done while Carl would still know of it.
Background of the naming effort
Over the years a variety of peaks has been considered to become Sharsmith Peak, and at least by 1988 the effort began centering on a summit at the eastern border of the park, and the effort to name that was entrenched by 1991. That summit remains the focus of the naming effort, for it was the last one to be considered before Carl’s death, it is in the High Sierra area he loved and made loved, and it is an alpine area where his special alpine plants nestle among rocky slopes above the treeline, an area reached only by hiking. Now over 100 individuals and organizations have formally endorsed the naming. Included among them are persons with experience as rangers, naturalists, park administrators (even two national directors, 2 regional directors, and 5 Yosemite superintendents ), geologists (even a past director of the U.S. Geological Survey), professors, writers, artists, historians, conservation leaders, mountaineers, native Americans, medical doctors, and enthusiastic park visitors. Dr. Michael Adams, son of landscape photographer Ansel Adams, states his father would have endorsed the naming. (Ansel and Carl used to speculate who would have a peak named for him first; Ansel won with Mount Ansel Adams in 1985.) Several regional organizations endorse the naming, including the park’s long-time cooperator since 1923, the Yosemite Association with over 10,000 members. There has been one formal dissent from an individual.
So what’s the hang-up? To get the naming done, the Name4Carl Committee researched the history of the naming effort, considered the various candidate peaks, and evaluated candidates with the criteria for naming used by the Board on Geographic Names. The Committee sent its formal proposal to the board last January 9. The board then began its own evaluation, seeking input on the proposal and especially from local interests, including Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, Tuolumne County, the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names, and local Indian groups.
Mono County supported naming Sharsmith Peak, the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names recommended against approval. The other local entities, to the knowledge of the Name4Carl Committee, have remained silent, with the Board awaiting their input.
The California Advisory Committee found the proposed naming to conflict with the policy of not adding new names within wilderness areas. Such policy is that of both the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the National Park Service. But Sharsmith Peak is at the edge of wilderness, straddling the Yosemite National Park/Inyo National Forest border with designated wilderness only on its west. Elsewhere along the park/forest border wilderness occurs on both sides of the line. Thus the Name4Carl Committee feels the present peak proposal is the best fit within the constraints of the policy and the appropriateness of the terrain to the man. Too, wilderness naming policy allows for exceptions to be made and names to be added if there are safety, administrative, and educational considerations. Because Sharsmith Peak has also been called other names (Peak 12,002, False White Mountain, and False White), selecting the single name Sharsmith Peak, which is already supplanting the others, would be advantageous in the event of a rescue situation. (Such occurred when a plane crashed there, and there is backcountry skiing on the peak’s slopes as well as summertime hiking.) Administration would be simplified with only one name. Education would be served by remembering the dedication of this man to understanding nature and spreading appreciation for it, which would serve to inspire future folks to strive to similar lofty goals. By honoring Carl, we also honor the profession of outdoor education. The merits of naming a peak for the man and his accomplishments have not been an issue. Thus there is adequate flexibility within the naming policy to allow bestowing the name Sharsmith Peak. For instance, Mount Ansel Adams received its formal name even though at the time it was surrounded by legislated wilderness (and to show other exceptions are possible to naming criteria, Mount Ansel Adams was named in 1985 shortly after Adams’ death in 1984 as an exception to a naming policy to wait at least five years after a person dies.)
How can the naming happen?
At this time approval of the naming by the Board is “iffy” at best. To improve the odds, supporters can send emails to or signed hard-copy letters (preferred) to:
Mr. Lou Yost, Executive Secretary
Domestic Geographic Names Committee
U.S. Board on Geographic Names
c/o U.S. Geological Survey
523 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192-0523
For further background on the naming proposal, see the Name4Carl Committee’s website www.name4carl.org; a sample letter to the naming board is included. Also there are copies of supporting statements and a summary of them. Supporters should address not only the contributions of Dr. Sharsmith and the appropriateness of this peak to bear his name plus the usage to date of his name on this peak, but also of the need for a single name for the peak, and that the naming board should use the available flexibility in the wilderness naming policy. The Name4Carl Committee (addresses below) would appreciate receiving a copy of letters for posting on their website.
The Name4Carl Committee welcomes further publicity on the naming proposal and notes that the Sharsmith Peak name is now favored even by those formerly using other names for the peak. This is important in that the naming board may be more likely to approve the naming as the peak is called Sharsmith Peak more by the public and in media. Currently searches on the websites Google Earth finds the name and Wikipedia defines it. The name was used in print at least as early as 1995. Although publicity may bring forth opponents to the naming, experience has shown vastly more would support the proposal.
Redirection of the naming effort
In this naming effort a gulf has developed between our government and its citizens. Because many of the proponents of the naming have wide experience in wilderness matters it is clear there would be no fundamental compromise in values should the naming occur. Yet advocates are presently stymied, and their wish may not be granted through the normal administrative process. Thus it is time to use other means to achieve this noble aim: legislation in the U.S. Congress would give the correct guidance to the Board and direct the naming. U.S. Representative Lois Capps of California has endorsed the naming as has Colorado State Representative Andy Kerr. More legislative support is sought, and a bill needs to be drafted, introduced, passed by Congress, and signed by the president. Because the present Name4Carl Committee is composed mainly of persons from other states who would be less effective in working with state legislators, Supporters in California are now solicited to form a group of constituents to have legislators that represent the region of Sharsmith Peak respond to this need. Contact the committee below to join.
Name 4 Carl Committee: Bill Jones, Bob Barbee, Bryan Harry, Len McKenzie, Wayne Merry, Jack Morehead, Owen Hoffman, Bob Fry, Douglass Hubbard, Allen Berrey, and Bill Wendt.
Bill Jones, lead member
0637 Blue Ridge Road
Silverthorne, CO 08498-8927