June 30, 1864 – First Federal Parkland Protection Law

On this day in history over 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, establishing Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as protected wilderness areas. The legislation gave California the Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation.” This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park.

A view of the Domes in Yosemite National Park, photographed around 1865. Photo by Carleton E. Watkins

Scottish-born naturalist John Muir wrote articles popularizing the area and increasing interest in it. But overgrazing, logging, and other damage from homesteaders caused Muir and others to lobby Congress for further protection of the area. His articles and books describing the park’s natural wonders inspired public support for the establishment of Yosemite National Park. However, while Congress created Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890, it left control of the land with the State of California.

In the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, 1915

In the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, 1915

In May 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt camped with Muir near Glacier Point for three days.

Teddy and John Muir at Yosemite

Teddy and John Muir at Yosemite

On that trip, Muir convinced Roosevelt to take control of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove away from California and return it to the federal government. In 1906, Roosevelt signed a bill that did precisely that. When the National Park Service was formed in 1916, and Yosemite was transferred to that agency’s jurisdiction.

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