Naturalist John Muir founded the Sierra Club in California in 1892. His goals were:
To explore, enjoy, and render accessible the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast; to publish authentic information concerning them; to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and government in preserving the forest and other natural resources of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
One hundred years later, the Sierra Club has organized chapters across the United States and into Canada, applying these goals to all natural areas, not just the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The only goal that has changed is the goal to render natural areas accessible, for "accessible" can mean the development and destruction against which the Club has fought.
The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club is much younger than the Sierra Club itself. In 1905, the Club bylaws were amended to allow the formation of regional Club chapters, but it was not until 1950, when the Atlantic Chapter was formed, that the first chapter outside California was created. The Atlantic Chapter included all of the states east of the Mississippi River, and had just 150 members. The first division of the Atlantic Chapter came in 1968 with the formation of the Southeastern Chapter. This new chapter took responsibility for Sierra Club activities in Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. After the Southeastern Chapter split into several other chapters, each responsible for a small geographic area, the chapter was renamed the Potomac Chapter, and included members in Delaware, Washington, D. C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia; members from Virginia and West Virginia subsequently formed their own chapters. In 1992, the Delaware Group broke away from the Potomac Chapter. Most recently, in 1994, the Potomac Chapter formally changed its name, becoming the Maryland Chapter.
Today the Maryland Chapter oversees Sierra Club activities in Maryland and Washington, D. C., and has over 12,000 members. The chapter is divided into ten groups who organize local Sierra Club activities. The ten groups of the Maryland Chapter are the Anne Arundel Group, the Baltimore Group, the Catoctin Group, the D. C. Group, the Eastern Shore Group, the Howard County Group, the Patuxent Group, the Rock Creek Group, the Southern Maryland Group and the Western Maryland Group. Each chapter of the Sierra Club, including the Maryland Chapter, has an executive committee comprised of volunteer members who manage and direct the chapter's activities and resources. Six of the committee members are at-large members and each group sends a delegate.
The very first activities organized by the Maryland Chapter, back when it was still the Atlantic Chapter, were outings such as nature walks, hikes, luncheons, socials, and seminars. The Maryland Chapter and all of its groups continue this tradition. Furthermore, the Maryland Chapter and its groups continue the conservation work started by John Muir in 1892. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Maryland (Potomac) Chapter worked to survey its region for site that could be designated wilderness areas and protected from development. It was successful in pushing through legislation that created the Dolly Sods, Otter Creek, and Cranberry Wilderness Areas in West Virginia. More recently, in 1984, pressure from Potomac Chapter members encouraged the Maryland General Assembly to enact landmark legislation on the Chesapeake Bay. This legislation created a state policy of protection for the Chesapeake Bay and formed a Critical Areas Commission to implement the policy. Also, the legislation tightened laws concerning agricultural run-off, sediment control, fisheries management, and wildlife habitats. The Maryland Chapter also works to save small and medium sized natural areas for development. For example, in 1990 the chapter was instrumental in having undeveloped parts of Fort Meade taken over by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and incorporated into the Patuxent Wildlife Research Service and National Wildlife Refuge.
Much of the Maryland Chapter's work is politically oriented. Members monitor legislation on the local, state, and national levels, informing the public of the potential impact of the new laws. The chapter also endorses political candidates who support environmentalism, and it publishes the voting records of current political office holders on environmental issues. Among the legislative issues in which the chapter is interested are recycling, air, water, land, and noise pollution, and alternative energy sources.
The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and its group inform its members and the public of such issues and activities by publishing newsletters. The chapter's first newsletter, begun in 1966, was the Potomac Sierran; in 1968 the name changed to The Mountain Laurel. This newsletter was published until 1975 when group newsletters began to appear. However, in 1982 the Sierra Club's national headquarters passed new rules requiring every chapter to publish a newsletter, so the chapter began publishing The Mountain Laurel again. Renamed the Chesapeake in 1984, the chapter newsletter now comes out four times a year to an ever increasing membership.
As more and more people in the United States become aware of the world's environmental problems, the Sierra Club and its chapters continue to gain new members, expand their outing and preservation activities, and wield greater influence in the nation's legislatures.