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Dan Chapman retraces John Muir's Southern journey, for good and ill

Before John Muir became known as the father of our national parks and co-founder of the Sierra Club, he was just a young man who wanted to explore America.

Photo by Bita Honarvar

So in 1867, when he was 29, he set out on a walk through the South. He started in Kentucky, ended up in Florida, and later documented the trip in a book called “A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.” (Technically, he walked 900 miles and did the other hundred by boat.)

A few years ago, Atlanta writer Dan Chapman, a longtime reporter who now works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, picked up Muir’s book and decided to retrace his steps. That led to Chapman’s new book, called “A Road Running Southward.”
The South has changed a lot in 155 years, and most of that change hasn’t been good for our environment. What Chapman does is get in close to show just how and where we’re losing ground—from coal-ash disasters to dredged-out rivers to flowers that have nowhere else to grow.

But along the way, he finds some things to celebrate — places where the South’s incredible natural diversity is still holding on, and a few places where things are even better than they were when John Muir came traipsing through.

Show notes:

Other music in this episode:

  • Axletree, "The Woods"
  • Lobo Loco, "Mountain Bells"
Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.