Earth Log

Yosemite is third-oldest national park, but parks idea was born there

Rafters float along the Merced River with Half Dome off in the distance in June 2014. Yosemite National Park’s glacially sculpted landscape holds more than stunning photo ops. This is a living laboratory where scientists can track everything from ants to glaciers. Protected from commercial development, logging, mining and other activities, it’s a scientist’s dream come true, and maybe a key to understanding climate change.
Rafters float along the Merced River with Half Dome off in the distance in June 2014. Yosemite National Park’s glacially sculpted landscape holds more than stunning photo ops. This is a living laboratory where scientists can track everything from ants to glaciers. Protected from commercial development, logging, mining and other activities, it’s a scientist’s dream come true, and maybe a key to understanding climate change. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Yosemite on Thursday is celebrating its 125th anniversary a week later than Sequoia and 18 years behind Yellowstone. And Yosemite was actually tied for third on Oct. 1, 1890, when it was officially established.

The General Grant National Park, which would be part of Kings Canyon National Park 50 years later, sprang from the same legislation as Yosemite.

But Yosemite lovers tend to see their park as No. 1, mostly because the idea of national parks was born years before Yellowstone and Sequoia.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant in 1864 to protect giant sequoias in the area, as well as gorgeous Yosemite Valley. Yosemite celebrated the 150th anniversary of the grant last year.

On Thursday, Yosemite will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of officially establishing Yosemite. The public is invited to the free event from 11 a.m. to noon at the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center.

The park will feature the park’s Mounted Patrol, a sing-along with musician Tom Bopp and an “appearance” by conservationist and Yosemite icon John Muir, who is famously portrayed by Lee Stetson. Central Valley fourth-graders will attend and receive free passes for another Yosemite visit.

In restoring its past, Yosemite leaders are pushing more and more revival of meadows and species of animals, such as the bighorn sheep, mountain yellow-legged frog and the cat-like Pacific fisher, says superintendent Don Neubacher.

The restoration of the facilities around venerable Mariposa Grove also is going well, he says. The $40 million project should be finished sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, Neubacher says.

He adds that Yosemite next year may be restoring the long-gone species of western pond turtles in Yosemite Valley.

It is important to protect nature and revive the past, he says, but Yosemite is looking to the future, too.

“We’re focusing on getting more young people involved,” he says. “They are the future stewards here.”

Let’s go back to the bragging rights among Central California’s outdoor gems.

Last week, Bee reporter Lewis Griswold wrote about Sequoia’s 125th anniversary, correctly calling it the second-oldest park in the country. His story talked of saving giant sequoias from logging at the time.

The sequoia protection campaign in Yosemite began 26 years earlier in Mariposa Grove where Muir had met Yosemite Valley. Conservationist Muir met with famed essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson at the grove to gain support. When Lincoln signed the grant, California turned Yosemite first into a state park.

So, the grant is what made Yosemite the birthing place of outdoor preservation, according to author Dayton Duncan, who wrote “Seed of the Future,” a book commissioned by the Yosemite Conservancy, which raises money for park improvements.

In explaining the comparisons with Yellowstone, Duncan said the idea back in the 1860s was for states to protect these kinds of special places. But without statehood in Wyoming, Congress decided to make Yellowstone a national park in 1872, Duncan said.

“There’s no disputing Yellowstone was the first national park,” Duncan said in an interview with me last year. “But the DNA of Yellowstone is 95 percent Yosemite. If you look at this in a larger context, it grew out of the Yosemite grant.”

Mark Grossi: 559-441-6316, @markgrossi

Yosemite’s 125th anniversary

A free celebration is from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday in front of the Visitors Center in Yosemite Valley.

  • Tom Bopp will play vintage Yosemite music, live on stage
  • Lee Stetson, portraying John Muir, will give us a glimpse into Yosemite’s history
  • Special guest is Ranger Gabriel, honorary Yosemite ranger through Make-A-Wish Foundation
  • Tribal representatives from Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation to lead prayer and sing traditional songs
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