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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Interview with Kass Hardy about the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant

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Where was the idea of National Parks born? Right here in Yosemite, June 30, 1864, where the first wild lands were set aside and protected for “public use, resort and recreation. As the entire Yosemite region ramps up to recognize the 150th anniversary of this historic moment, the signing of the Yosemite Land Grant, and other upcoming park anniversaries, Ranger Kass Hardy has been at the center of the planning efforts. Here’s a chance to get to know Kass better, and find out more about these milestone anniversaries. Scroll to the bottom for a video on the significance of the 150th anniversary event.

Can you tell us a little about how you ended up in Yosemite working on planning anniversary celebrations?

From 2008-2010, I was fortunate to work on a similar project for Glacier National Park’s 100th anniversary. While at Glacier, our team learned from other parks who had recently honored an anniversary – like Mesa Verde, Mount Rainier, and Zion. To create a place to learn from one another, we started an informal anniversary working group to ask questions, identify models of programming that worked, and to share successes. A staff member at Yosemite participated on those quarterly calls – and as my term was coming to end at Glacier, they encouraged me to apply for a similar term position at Yosemite.

The Yosemite Grant 150th anniversary is unique in that it is honoring the birth of the national park idea. The amount of history that this incredible landscape embodies is so powerful – and its ability to inspire generations of people is unmatched.

What aspect of the 150th, or this series of anniversaries are you most excited about?

Anniversaries offer us the opportunity to reflect on why places like Yosemite are important. For me, the most inspiring part of the Yosemite Grant 150th project is listening and reading the countless Yosemite stories from visitors, locals, and employees. To me, the Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories book project that the anniversary team initiated and printed in partnership with Yosemite Conservancy is the type of project that anniversaries are all about. Stories promote the essence of why milestones like the 150th are so valuable to our society.

In addition, working on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service is truly an honor. The projects associated with the 100th are very visionary – and groundbreaking for the service in some regards.

Many of the events are outside the park. What was the rationale behind those decisions?

The story of Yosemite dates back thousands of years – and goes far beyond the boundaries that we have today. We wanted to utilize the anniversary as an opportunity to work with our neighbors to elevate the significance of this milestone throughout the region — and world. Working with our neighbors has enabled us to have over 245 activities on the calendar — and to have them hosted in locations where people who love Yosemite can more easily attend.

It seems like a sense of community is important to you. What are some of the other community-based organizations that you are involved with in Yosemite?

Yes! I have a lot of energy, enjoy being around people, find volunteering extremely rewarding, and love being creative. I very much appreciate communities and especially enjoy being an active member of the Yosemite community. I have been involved in a few of the organizations in and around Yosemite over the last several years – including the Yosemite Employee Association, Yosemite Rotary, Yosemite Winter Club, and youth soccer through AYSO.

Why are national parks important to you?

National parks are important to me because they are our national heritage. They are the places that share the many unique stories of our past – and allow us to experience today’s cultural and natural world. When you take a minute to really think about what that means – it’s truly astonishing.

I grew to love national parks before I knew about the National Park System. Having lived one mile from Saratoga National Battlefield in upstate New York, I was exposed to a national park throughout my childhood. My family took trips to “the battlefield” often. We would learn about the significant history of those grounds, bike and walk the trails, and watch owls for hours at a time. I think due to this exposure as a child, I have a very deep connection to our national parks – and will always have a special place in my heart for our national parks.