John Francis witnessed a massive oil spill into the San Francisco Bay in January 1971. Seeing more than 800,000 gallons of oil devastate the natural habitat turned him into a lifelong naturalist and environmentalist. Francis, in his mid-20s at the time, stopped riding in vehicles and walked to every destination for over two decades, which earned him the nickname “Planetwalker.”

Francis would go on to earn three college degrees and work in various posts including for the U.S. Coast Guard, where he studies the impact of oil spills.

He now lives in West Cape May, New Jersey, the borough next to the city of Cape May, where another avid naturalist once lived: Harriet Tubman. Lauded as an emancipation icon, her connection with nature is not heralded nearly as much as her passion for freedom. 

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