On this day in 1864 President Lincoln signed a bill drafted by both houses of the 38th Congress of the United States officially creating the Yosemite Grant. While Yellowstone ultimately became the first National Park, this was the first instance of park land being set aside for preservation and public use by the federal government. The grant was the result of citizens like Galen Clark and Senator John Conness advocating heavily for protection of the area. John Muir later led a successful movement to establish a larger national park encompassing not just the Yosemite Valley, but surrounding mountains and forests as well.
Yosemite presented a series of firsts for the national park system we enjoy today; first to have land set aside, paving the way for other parks like Yellowstone to carve out protected areas for future generations to enjoy; and first to build on the national park idea, and put in place a system for the future United States National Park Service.
Today marks the 149th year since the Yosemite Grant was signed. 2014 promises to be a banner year at Yosemite, as the park celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant. You can find out more about the events celebrating the 150th anniversary HERE.
About the Yosemite Grant from Wikipedia:
Concerned by the effects of commercial interests, prominent citizens including Galen Clark and Senator John Conness advocated for protection of the area. A park bill was prepared with the assistance of the General Land Office in the Interior Department. The bill passed both houses of the 38th United States Congress, and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, creating the Yosemite Grant. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were ceded to California as a state park, and a board of commissioners was proclaimed two years later.
Galen Clark was appointed by the commission as the Grant’s first guardian, but neither Clark nor the commissioners had the authority to evict homesteaders (which included Hutchings). The issue was not settled until 1872 when the homesteader land holdings were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Clark and the reigning commissioners were ousted in 1880, this dispute also reaching the Supreme Court in 1880. The two Supreme Court decisions affecting management of the Yosemite Grant are considered important precedents in land management law. Hutchings became the new park guardian.
Access to the park by tourists improved in the early years of the park, and conditions in the Valley were made more hospitable. Tourism significantly increased after the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, but the long horseback ride to reach the area was a deterrent. Three stagecoach roads were built in the mid-1870s to provide better access for the growing number of visitors to Yosemite Valley.
Scottish-born naturalist John Muir wrote articles popularizing the area and increasing scientific interest in it. Muir was one of the first to theorize that the major landforms in Yosemite Valley were created by large alpine glaciers, bucking established scientists such as Josiah Whitney, who regarded Muir as an amateur. Muir wrote scientific papers on the area’s biology.
Text of the Yosemite Grant:
AN ACT AUTHORIZING A GRANT TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA OF THE “YO-SEMITE VALLEY,” AND OF THE LAND EMBRACING THE “MARIPOSA BIG TREE GROVE,”
Approved June 30, 1864 (13 Stat. 325)
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and is hereby, granted to the State of California the “cleft” or “gorge” in the granite peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, situated in the county of Mariposa, in the State aforesaid, and the headwaters of the Merced River, and known as the Yo-Semite Valley, with its branches or spurs, in estimated length fifteen miles, and in average width one mile back from the main edge of the precipice, on each side of the valley, with the stipulation, nevertheless, that the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; but leases not exceeding ten years may be granted for portions of said premises. All incomes derived from leases of privileges to be expended in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads leading thereto; the boundaries to be established at the cost of said State by the United States surveyor-general of California, whose official plat, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, shall constitute the evidence of the locus, extent, and limits of the said cleft or gorge; the premises to be managed by the governor of the State with eight other commissioners, to be appointed by the executive of California, and who shall receive no compensation for their services.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That there shall likewise be, and there is hereby, granted to the said State of California the tracts embracing what is known as the “Mariposa Big Tree Grove,” not to exceed the area of four sections, and to be taken in legal subdivisions of one quarter section each, with the like stipulation as expressed in the first section of this act as to the State’s acceptance, with like conditions as in the first section of this act as to inalienability, yet with same lease privilege; the income to be expended in preservation, improvement, and protection of the property; the premises to be managed by commissioners as stipulated in the first section of this act, and to be taken in legal subdivisions as aforesaid; and the official plat of the United States surveyor general, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to be the evidence of the locus of the said Mariposa Big Tree Grove. (U.S.C., title 16, sec. 48.)
They sure don’t write ’em like THAT anymore!
About Yosemite National Park from Wikipedia:
Yosemite National Park is a United States National Park spanning eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in the central eastern portion of the U.S. state of California. The park, which is managed by the National Park Service, covers an area of 761,268 acres (3,080.74 km2) and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. Over 3.7 million people visit Yosemite each year: most spend their time in the seven square miles (18 km2) of Yosemite Valley. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness. Yosemite was central to the development of the national park idea. First, Galen Clark and others lobbied to protect Yosemite Valley from development, ultimately leading to President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864. Later, John Muir led a successful movement to establish a larger national park encompassing not just the valley, but surrounding mountains and forests as well – paving the way for the United States national park system.
Yosemite is one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in the Sierra Nevada, and the park supports a diversity of plants and animals. The park has an elevation range from 2,127 to 13,114 feet (648 to 3,997 m) and contains five major vegetation zones: chaparral/oak woodland, lower montane forest, upper montane forest, subalpine zone, and alpine. Of California’s 7,000 plant species, about 50% occur in the Sierra Nevada and more than 20% within Yosemite. There is suitable habitat or documentation for more than 160 rare plants in the park, with rare local geologic formations and unique soils characterizing the restricted ranges many of these plants occupy.
The geology of the Yosemite area is characterized by granitic rocks and remnants of older rock. About 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in formation of deep, narrow canyons. About 1 million years ago, snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. Ice thickness in Yosemite Valley may have reached 4,000 feet (1,200 m) during the early glacial episode. The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the U-shaped valley that attracts so many visitors to its scenic vistas today.
You can find out more about Yosemite National Park from the National Park Service website HERE.
You can read more about Yosemite on Wikipedia HERE.
You can find out more about the events celebrating the 150th anniversary HERE.