YOSEMITE – Gazing up into the towering stand of Giant Sequoias touching deep blue skies, it’s hard to imagine anything has changed in 150 years. Birds sang and chirped as wind rustled through the trees tops, just as it did in 1864, when President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, enacting the legislation that preserved Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove.
The Civil War was raging in those dark days full of heartbreak and blood, and the President was far away in Washington, D.C. when he signed the Yosemite Grant Act. Lincoln would not live to see Yosemite with his own eyes, but his vision secured the future of the wild western lands that remain part of the public trust of America.
Photographs by Virginia Lazar. Click on images to enlarge.
On Monday, June 30, beneath the regal canopy of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, people from around the world gathered to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant by breaking ground on a landmark project to protect the ancient sequoia trees and the extraordinary experience they make possible.
Tom Bopp played piano and sang old songs as park visitors and special guests milled about excitedly. For so many who planned the day’s festivities, including Yosemite National Park Ranger and Anniversary Coordinator Kass Hardy, an event that was years in the making was finally taking place.
Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher welcomed the attentive audience and introduced the Yosemite and California State Parks Mounted Patrol. A hush fell as the sound of horses hooves on the trail reminded all of the storied traditions surrounding the land.
Emma Boone, 15, performed the National Anthem, a capella, with graceful perfection. Emma is the daughter of magistrate judge for the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Stanley A. Boone.To the rear, K-9 teams stood guard, the dogs calm and giving off barely a whimper.
Tribal Elder Les James of the American Indian Council of Mariposa County offered an American Indian blessing, burning sage that mingled with the rising scent of incense cedar and pine as the forest began to heat up.
James turned slowly as he spoke, looking up, yet his voice could still be heard even away from the microphone as he addressed the earth, sky and spirits. Silence overtook the crowd, the dogs and birds were quiet, and even the trees stilled as the Elder took those present back in time through his voice and song.
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis was the Master of Ceremonies.
“On the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, we stand in awe among these giant trees that are thousands of years old and are reminded about the importance of protecting our natural resources so that future generations can experience what John Muir called ‘nature’s forest masterpiece,'” said Jarvis.
Congressmen Tom McClintock and Jim Costa, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and Yosemite Conservancy’s Chair Phil Pillsbury and President Mike Tollefson spoke of how the Yosemite Grant Act gave birth to the idea of our national parks, about cultivating future stewards to preserve our natural places, and of supporting fundraising efforts to restore Mariposa Grove.
Congressman McClintock spoke of the Park Rangers, those who answer questions, help and guide people, calling them the Park’s “gracious greeters,” while thanking them for their service. McClintock called the Yosemite Grant “revolutionary,” saying it was a uniquely American idea to preserve open space for the people. He further acknowledged the communities that surround the park, whose citizens and businesses are passionate, he said, and conduct a “never-ending campaign” on behalf of the Yosemite.
Reminding the audience that “we should never take it for granted,” Congressman Costa shared stories of coming to the park with his family as a child and returning over the years, whether on a picnic or skiing, and saying it was in Yosemite that he first heard “languages from throughout the world.” He asked that visitors and custodians of the park should “celebrate, take note, ensure and preserve” the open space.
MC and NPS Director Jarvis thanked Yosemite Conservency for having completed some 400 projects and given over $80 million dollars to the Park. He then introduced Don Neubacher, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, calling Neubacher “the perfect person for the Park at this moment in time.”
“Today, we commemorate the Yosemite Grant and we renew President Lincoln’s vision by making a commitment to protecting this majestic grove for our children and the children of future generations,” said Neubacher.
On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act “authorizing a grant to the State of California of the Yo-Semite Valley, and of the land embracing the Mariposa Big Tree Grove.” This legislation protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias “for public use, resort and recreation.” Under this law, scenic natural areas were set aside and protected for the benefit of future generations for the first time in the history of our nation.
The Mariposa Grove, near Yosemite’s South Entrance, contains about 500 mature giant sequoias, which are among the largest living things on Earth. In December 2013, the National Park Service approved a $36 million improvement plan for the Mariposa Grove funded by $16 million from the park service and $20 million in private contributions being raised by Yosemite Conservancy.
“The project will restore much of the Mariposa Grove to its natural state so that visitors will be able to experience one of the world’s most inspiring natural cathedrals in a more serene setting,” said Tollefson. “This is a generational opportunity for donors to contribute to the protection of an ancient treasure.”
After as many as two thousand years undisturbed, the giant sequoias within the Grove have been unintentionally damaged by the heavy human traffic of recent decades. Their shallow roots bear the impact of a constant stream of automobiles and pedestrians, while parking lots, roads and culverts interfere with the Sierra Nevada’s complex hydrology.
Some of the plans to protect the trees and improve the area include relocating parking and visitor facilities to the South Entrance, reestablishing natural habitat in the location of the lower Grove parking area, converting several paved roads to pedestrian trails, improving natural water flows to reduce erosion, improving trails and adding new visitor education components. The restoration work will occur in phases over several years with the goal of making the area an “enjoyable, accessible and unimpaired model for the nation.”
Through the support of donors, Yosemite Conservancy provides grants and support to Yosemite National Park to help preserve and protect Yosemite today and for future generations. The work funded by Yosemite Conservancy is visible throughout the park, from trail rehabilitation to wildlife protection and habitat restoration. The Conservancy is dedicated to enhancing the visitor experience and providing a deeper connection to the park through outdoor programs, volunteering and wilderness services.
Thanks to dedicated supporters, the Conservancy has provided more than $81 million in grants to Yosemite National Park.
Learn more at www.yosemiteconservancy.org or call 1-800-469-7275.