America has 58 national parks. How many have you visited?
When I was in high school in the late 1960s, my family spent two weeks traveling through parts of California that we had never seen before. We drove though Death Valley, visited Big Sur, Redwood National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park.
In visiting Yosemite, I still remember the spectacular waterfalls and beautiful scenery consisting of mountains, valleys, rivers, streams and more. If you’ve never visited Yosemite, I highly recommend it, and make sure you take extra memory cards for your cameras.
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But why was this spectacular part of California declared a national park?
In 1864 Yosemite Valley and nearby Mariposa Grove of redwoods were declared a public trust by President Abraham Lincoln. At the urging of conservationists, Lincoln made the declaration to stop any further commercial development within the lands. It was the first time the federal government took such action to protect land and preserve it for public enjoyment instead of exploitation. Many believe Lincoln’s move laid the ground work for the eventual formation of the National Park System.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Act into law, setting aside over 2 million acres of unique landscape in Wyoming and Montana as a national park. Yellowstone was the first national park in the entire world. What once was public domain land was now ‘dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’ Designated as a national park, the area known as Yellowstone was now off limits to timber companies and mining as well as homesteading or private settlement. Control of Yellowstone National Park was given to the Interior Department.
In 1889, conservationists John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson discovered that the once pristine meadows surrounding the Yosemite Valley were being heavily grazed by domestic sheep. They began a campaign to petition Congress to preserve the wilderness area of the Yosemite Valley.
On this day, October 1, 1890, Congress passed a bill which once signed by President Benjamin Harrison, created Yosemite National Park in California. The area set aside by Congress covered over 1,500 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island.
In 1906, the park was expanded to incorporate the rest of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of redwoods.
On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt sign the Antiquities Act into law. This act was passed to protect the fragile cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins and early missions of the Southwest. By signing the Antiquities Act into law, it allows future presidents to make proclamations to preserve more sites for ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.’
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Act to Establish the National Park Service (Organic Act) into law. The government realized the need to put the growing number of national parks and monuments under the control of its own system. By that time, there were 14 national parks and 21 national monuments. Today there are 58 national parks and 77 national monuments.