As the Civil War raged across the south and eastern parts of the nation in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation on June 30 that forever altered the destiny of Tuolumne County out west.
The Yosemite Grant Act, introduced by Sen. John Conness, gave the state of California ownership of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees, marking the first time a wilderness area had been set aside by the federal government for protection. The bill gave birth to the California state parks system and also ushered in the rise of the national park system.
Both have provided a huge economic engine to tourism-based businesses, like Southern Tuolumne County's former gold mining towns.
Since last September, the National Park Service has been promoting the anniversary with a series of events at Yosemite and the surrounding communities that will continue throughout 2014. Most kick off this spring.
State Parks officials have also said many of the popular annual events held at the state's 280 designated parks have been repackaged with a special focus on the sesquicentennial.
"Yosemite came along as a state park almost coincidentally with the end of gold," said Kathy Brown, affairs coordinator for the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum, run by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society. "If it wasn't for the opening of the park, towns like Groveland and Big Oak Flat would probably be nonexistent today."
For the full story, see the March 7 edition of The Union Democrat.