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City explores improving ties with sister city in Scotland

Martinez Tribune

Martinez’s sister city is reaching out from across the ocean, hoping to reinforce the tie the two cities share – John Muir.

In a presentation to the City Council Wednesday night, Mark Thomson and Bruce Campbell, wearing kilts in the tartan patterns of their family lines, described their recent trip to Dunbar, Scotland, where Muir was born in 1838.

Martinez, they reminded the panel, is where Muir lived 24 years in a Victorian home on 2,600 acres of Martinez fruit land. During that time, he became the father of the National Parks system, one of the founders of the Sierra Club and a noted writer on environ- mental subjects.

Thomson and Campbell are part of the John Muir As- sociation, which was formed in 1956, after Faire and Henry Sax fought to preserve the 1882 house in which Muir had lived. The association supports efforts to keep the Muir home and 335 acres of adjacent land as a national treasure.

“Martinez is inextricably linked to John Muir, and John Muir is inextricably linked to Martinez,” Campbell said. The association to which he and Thomson belong celebrates Muir’s life with such events as “Earth Day Birthday” at the John Muir National His- toric Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., where visitors can tour Muir’s home and the grounds and hear a Muir impersonator describe high points of his life.

The site also is home to summer camps and a native plant garden, and the association itself is active in the Martinez community, he said.

But Thomson, Campbell and other association members – a dozen all told – have traveled to Dunbar, which is one of three Martinez sister cities, the others being Hanchuan, China, and Stresa, Italy.

There, they visited with members of Parliament as well as the governing body of Dunbar, and saw how John Muir is thought of from the Scottish point of view.

He is remembered there for his fondness of keeping wild areas wild and his connection with nature, the men told the council. His lessons are taught and stressed in public schools, Campbell said.

Residents, officials and businesspeople of Dunbar told John Muir Association representatives they were anxious to reach out to the people of Martinez and to the city where Muir did his most prolific writing.

And they are anxious to have Martinez residents, business- people and officials as guests, too, so they can see Muir’s birthplace, a three-story stone building in a Dunbar business district where the family lived and Muir’s father operated a grain and food store.

The city has a museum and a John Muir Way footpath from Musselburgh to Dunglass and a nearby John Muir Country Park.

The Martinez visitors met with the Scottish equivalent of Dunbar’s Chamber of Com- merce, discussing tourism, cultural entertainment and the possibility of visitor packets for Martinez residents going to Dun- bar and reciprocal hospitality for Dunbar visitors coming here.
“We need to see where our history comes from,” Camp- bell said. “Your counterparts are interested in getting to know you better.”

That dialog didn’t have to start in person – these are the days of Skype.

“They felt the sister cities need to be revitalized, Camp- bell said. “The costs could be minor, but the benefits would be immense.”

“Anything that promotes heritage and diversity is won- derful,” said Councilmember AnaMarie Avila Farias, who earlier in the meeting accepted a Martinez proclamation recognizing Sept. 15-Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. She pointed out how Italian, Portuguese and other cultures have contributed to the city, then asked what type of support the association ex- pected from the council.

“The sister cities have not flourished,” Thomson said, explaining the association would like to see it become more ro- bust. His group also would like to see officials from both cities start communicating, especially since the Scottish counter- parts are eager to become en- gaged with Martinez leaders.

Vice Mayor Mark Ross suggested the Council form an ad hoc committee that focuses on the city’s two major fig- ures, Muir and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and highlight the culture, heritage, history and other attributes Martinez shares with Dunbar.
“We’d be happy to participate,” Thomson said.

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