On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100! The centennial celebration pays homage to the Organic Act of 1916, which established the Park Service and brought a number of parks already in existence together under its auspices. However, the rich history of the parks movement predates this, beginning in earnest in the 1860s.
As a means of stemming the growth of logging, mining and development that had adverse effects on the Sierra Nevada, local activists convinced California Senator John Conness to introduce a bill to Congress to cede the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California. In 1864, after passing in both houses easily, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, making the land property of the State for preservation and public use.
After the precedent set by the Yosemite Grant, conservationists moved to protect swaths of nature in Wyoming and Montana from private exploitation. Soon after, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872—a truly revolutionary idea.
Inspired to read more about the national parks? Check out the recently published The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks.
John Muir, dubbed “the patron saint of the American wilderness,” is something of a hero of mine, from his lofty convictions down to his incomparable beard. Read of his first encounter with what would become Yosemite in My First Summer in the Sierra.
Considering heading out to one of the parks this year to celebrate the centennial? Check out National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States.
If you can’t make it to a national park, stay home and binge-watch Ken Burns’ celebrated The National Parks: America's Best Idea.