Our National Park Service Turns 100

Today our National Park Service turns 100 years old. Of course, we have had parks that were preserved long before 1916. For example, on 30 June 1864, that President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation which set aside the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for recreation and preservation, a step which ultimately led to the creation of the United States’ National Park system. This designation was made as a grant to the state of California upon the conditions

“that the premises shall he held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time.”

Yosemite was thus initially a state park and not really a national park. It became a National Park in 1906 after John Muir persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt work to designate it so in order to better protect and preserve the unique natural treasure. Even though the first true National Park in the world to be created was Yellowstone in 1872, the precedent was established with Yosemite. It is telling that the emblem of the National Park Service features a giant redwood, which indicates the significance of Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove in the Park Service’s heritage.

From this important starting point, the idea of setting aside public lands for recreation and preservation began to grow. Yellowstone, as I mentioned, was founded eight years after the Yosemite Grant. Surprisingly quickly, other nations followed the example of The United States: Australia created the National Park (now Royal National Park) south of Sydney in 1879 and Canada created Rocky Mountain National Park (now Banff National Park) in 1887. By the early 20th century national parks had been created in several European countries and in their colonial possessions as well.

Abraham Lincoln left many invaluable legacies to posterity which overshadow this contribution. Yet this too is a bequest of inestimable worth. In the midst of a great civil war, the Great Emancipator nevertheless found the time to think about the future of his war-torn nation, and to plan to make it a better future in every way. By granting Federal lands for preservation and recreation, an entirely new thing in the world was created, and we all still benefit. Remarkable man, Lincoln.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

— John Muir

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