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Yosemite National Park

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Wawona Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, circa 1880s Add to Scrapbook

Wawona Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, circa 1880s

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In 1889, after an absence of almost eight years, Muir returned to Yosemite to find his "sacred temple" had been horribly neglected. Tunnels had been carved through the hearts of some of the big trees, meadows had been converted into hayfields and pastures, and the valley was littered with tin cans and garbage. As if that were not enough, the mountain ramparts in the Sierras above were being destroyed by sheep and lumbermen.

Muir threw himself into what became a pitched battle to preserve the high country. Finally, on October 1st, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed into law a bill creating Yosemite National Park.

Soldiers guarding Yosemite National Park, 1899 Add to Scrapbook

Soldiers guarding Yosemite National Park, 1899

Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 1903 Add to Scrapbook

Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 1903

The cavalry was given the task of protecting the national parks. Under Captain Charles Young, the first black man to be put in charge of a national park, soldiers built the first trail to Mount Whitney and erected protective fences around the big trees.

John Muir was extremely grateful for the Army's protective presence. However, to further ensure Yosemite Valley's protection, Muir wanted it to be transferred from state control back to the federal government and incorporated into a larger Yosemite National Park. In 1892, Muir and a handful of prominent Californians formed the Sierra Club to help promote Yosemite's protection.

For nearly a decade, Muir struggled unsuccessfully to have the Yosemite Valley made part of the larger Yosemite National Park. Then, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt asked Muir to accompany him on his visit to Yosemite. The two men spent three nights camping, an opportunity Muir used to bring the plight of the valley to the president's attention.

At the end of Roosevelt's two-week visit, he spoke at the construction site of a new arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone. In his speech, Roosevelt reminded people of the essential democratic principle embodied by the parks; they were created "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." These words were later carved into the arch's mantle as a reminder of why the park was there – and for whom.

Within three years, Muir's dream would become reality when Congress approved the transfer of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa big trees back to the federal government.

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Bank of America Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr Fund Corporation for Public Broadcasting The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Park Foundation

National Park Foundation The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation The Pew Charitable TrustsGM


Florentine Films and WETA


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