Yosemite's El Capitan in 1861
Carleton Watkins, courtesy of The Getty
On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed America’s first land protection law. The Yosemite Grant protected areas in Yosemite Valley “for public use, resort, and recreation.”
One hundred years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which permanently protected lands across the nation. The story of the protection of Yosemite exemplifies how our consideration of wild lands has changed over the past 150 years.
Watch a video about the Yosemite Grant below:
Upon the signing of the Yosemite Grant, the protection of Yosemite was overseen by Galen Clark, the man who was considered the first settler to discover the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia in 1857.
“I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the Valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur.” - Galen Clark
A few years later, John Muir came to visit Yosemite. Upon seeing the continuing issues caused by overgrazing and logging, he decided to lead efforts to lobby for the further protection of Yosemite.
Muir's efforts were successful and Yosemite was established as America’s first national park in 1890.
Initially, the State of California retained control of the area, but as its popularity grew, it became more difficult to care for. In 1903, while camping together, Muir convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to return Yosemite to the care of the federal government. Roosevelt signed a bill to do so three years later.
In the early part of the century, the Buffalo Soldiers were among those who cared for these lands - another landmark that Yosemite is noted for. They built the first roads and trails, fought forest fires and monitored wildlife poaching and illegal grazing.
Ansel Adams' photograph of Half Dome as seen from an Apple Orchard in Yosemite, 1933 (credit: National Archives & Records Administration)
In 1916, the National Park Service was established and Yosemite was grandfathered into the national park system. On a visit to Yosemite National Park as a youth with his family, Ansel Adams received his first camera. He continue to photograph and advocate for its breathtaking landscapes until his death in 1984.
That same year, 89% of Yosemite National Park was designated as Yosemite Wilderness.
Today, Yosemite continues to attract millions of visitors year round from across the world. Although threats like logging attempts and forest fires have not ceased entirely, America’s resolve to protect Yosemite’s beauty has grown over the past 150 years. The first land to receive federal protection has inspired our nation to protect many more.