Yosemite National Park turns 125!

2015 marks the 125 anniversary of Yosemite National Park. 2014 marked the 150 anniversary of the Yosemite Grant. One year later we claim to be 25 years younger?  Yes. Well, not exactly. Yosemite has a long and interesting story and sometimes it takes a couple tries to get things right.

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Lets try to get the story figured out. In 2014 we commemorated the 150 anniversary of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Groove of Big Trees protected as California’s first State Park. Not only was it California’s first state park, it was the World’s first state park. This, ladies and gentleman, was the seed planted that would sprout into America’s best idea, the National Park idea. Although Yellowstone can take credit as the nation’s first National Park in 1872, Yosemite can take credit as providing the first glimpse of this idea, protection for future generations.

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Yosemite’s first form of protection was created under a grant that transferred land from the federal government to the state of California. This ground-breaking piece of legislation was signed by Abraham Lincoln on June 30th 1864, during the heat of the civil war.  However, the Yosemite Grant’s protection was limited. Very little beyond the stretches of Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs would have the same protection.

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This map shows the arbitrary lines drawn to “protect” Yosemite Valley . These lines left the Yosemite Valley vulnerable.  Not long after, alarms were sounded and  work started to protect the lands found beyond the stretches of Yosemite Valley. What happened outside the walls of Yosemite Valley would undoubtedly shape what flowed into it.

John Muir below Royal Arches and Washington Column

Although it took 26 years and public outcry by people like John Muir and the Sierra Club, further protection was eventually secured. On October 1, 1890 the third national park was created, Yosemite National Park. President, Benjamin Harris, signed legislation protecting 1500 square miles of land surrounding Yosemite Valley. This newly formed National Park would help protect the watersheds from being polluted, the high meadows from being grazed, and from other threats, such as mining prospects.

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The boundaries drawn did not include Yosemite Valley or the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, those places would remain protected as a State Park until 1906. The boundaries drawn in yellow were the ones created in 1890, boundaries that are actually larger than Yosemite’s current park boundaries, which are drawn in red. Yosemite National Park protected Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne and Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, Hetch Hetchy Valley and countless streams, granitic domes and peaks. The 1890 park boundaries even included the Devil’s Postpile, which is now a National Monument on the Eastern side of the Sierra. If you are wondering where Teddy Roosevelt fits in this picture, that is a later part of the story. In 1906 Teddy Roosevelt transferred Yosemite Valley as a State Park into Yosemite National Park, helping to make all the pieces fit together. This was also the time Yosemite’s boundaries were redrawn once again. The red boundaries were created in 1906, which follows the spine of the Sierra Nevada.

Cathedral Peak. Yosemite National Park Photo by David Jefferson

150 years ago, we tried our best to protect Yosemite. 125 years ago we were still trying to figure out how to better protect Yosemite’s landscapes. This is something that continues today and into our future. Next year, Yosemite and the entire National Park Service will commemorate a different anniversary, the centennial of the National Park Service! To learn more about Yosemite’s anniversaries, visit http://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/yose/anniversary/events/index.html

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