EDITORIAL: The Yosemite Grant Act

150 years after the signing, we must continue to protect our crown jewel.

FresnoJune 7, 2014 

The battle has waged on between profiteers who see Yosemite's beauty as something to exploit and preservationists seeking to keep it pristine and natural.

JOHN WALKER — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, preserving Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, and setting up the first state park in California.

It was a visionary thing for Lincoln and Congress to do, especially in light of the fact that at the time Confederate forces were preparing for a possible raid on Washington, D.C.

It also was the right thing to do. What is now 1,169-square-mile Yosemite National Park includes some of the most beautiful and inspiring scenery on the planet. A visitor to Yosemite Valley -- the park's prime attraction -- can soak in the sights of Half Dome, El Capitan, North Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Yosemite Falls, which, at 2,425 feet, is North America's tallest waterfall.

In a story last Sunday on the first 150 years of Yosemite, Bee reporter Mark Grossi wrote that landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted predicted in 1865 that the effort to save Yosemite and the need to find the proper balance among accessibility, amenities and preservation would be ongoing.

"In a century, the whole number of visitors will be counted by the millions," Olmsted told a gathering at Yosemite Valley. "An injury to the scenery so slight that it may be unheeded by any visitor now, will be one multiplied by those millions."

The battle has been waged ever since between profiteers who see Yosemite's beauty as something to exploit and preservationists seeking to keep it pristine and natural.

Though it's not popular to praise government these days, we believe the National Park Service and the park's managers have done a wonderful job through the years.

Indeed, the park attracts about 4 million visitors a year from all over the United States and the world. They come to camp, hike, raft, cycle or simply snap pictures. Despite all that traffic and other human activity, the park remains one of the world's crown jewels.

We also believe that the people of the San Joaquin Valley should have a special affinity for Yosemite. They should visit. They should explore. They should make memories there with their families.

After all, Yosemite is in our backyard. And, as The Bee's Tim Sheehan reported in a story today, Yosemite is a mighty piston in the economic engine of our mountain communities and Valley cities.

Citing a National Park Service estimate, Sheehan wrote that Yosemite tourists spent almost $380 million in 2012 at businesses operating within the park and in its "gateway" communities. The effects of those dollars totaled about $472 million in employee salaries and other economic multipliers for the 60-mile surrounding area, including Fresno, Oakhurst and Mariposa.

As we celebrate Yosemite's first 150 years, we should honor those leaders who had the foresight to protect it and be inspired by them.

Living so close to this scenic wonder comes with a great responsibility. We must commit to seeing that it endures -- majestically -- for eons.

Yes, Yosemite belongs to the nation and the world. But we Valley residents are perfectly justified to think of it as "our park."

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