Politicians, National Park Service employees and members of the public gathered on Monday inside the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to celebrate Yosemite National Park's past and future.
The event commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, to protect Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley for future generations.
The gathering also included a ceremony that kicked off a multi-year, $36 million project to restore the grove to a more natural state - removing a tram, parking area and some concrete. The work is intended to protect the health and longevity of the world-famous giant sequoia trees that inhabit the grove.
"Yosemite Valley and this magnificent grove of giant sequoias are often cited as the birthplace of the national park idea," said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. "As stewards of our national park system, it's our duty to protect parks and ensure that they remain pristine, beautiful and available to the public for the next 150 years."
As the Civil War was raging in other parts of the nation, Lincoln signed the legislation that set aside Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley for protection. It marked the creation of California's state park system and was the first time any government in the world pledged to preserve land for public use.
The newly created state park attracted the likes of early environmental activists such as John Muir, Galen Clark and Jessie Benton Fremont. Muir and his Sierra Club eventually succeeded in lobbying Congress to establish Yosemite as a national park in 1890.
"It's not just for the elite few, it's for all of us," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of Monday's speakers. "What a profoundly unique and American ideal."
For the full story, see the July 1, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.