On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turned 100. We have many people to thank for the preservation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and nearly 400 other sites that tell the story of North America. The roots of the National Park system are deep – all the way back to 1832, when the artist George Caitlan began writing about his concern about the damage done by America’s westward expansion. His views would not have been popular at the time, but writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Henry David Thoreau echoed his sentiments.
So An appreciation for unspoiled nature grew as people became aware of some of the splendid sights and natural wonders in the west. Some people understood how unique these places were, and the notion of preserving them became a national imperative.
The concept of a National Park grew as more people visited both Yellowstone and Yosemite valley. In 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation that gave Yosemite and Mariposa Big Trees to the people of California, with the agreement that it would be used and preserved for the betterment of mankind – they would be held for public use and recreation for all time. Yellowstone, which crosses state lines, could not be given to the people of one state, so eventually it was preserved as a federal reservation in 1872, under president Grant.
This was the birth of the National Park System. It is this uniquely American invention that kept some of the most spectacular geography on the face of the earth as our birthright, the property of all the people. In recent years, the mission of the National Park Service has expanded to include preservation of uniquely American Heritage sites, all intended to preserve and showcase important places and events from our past. Pre-Columbian cliff dwellings such as Mesa Verde in Colorado were preserved, as were natural hot springs, active volcanoes, battlefields, and much more.
The mission of the Park Service is not only to preserve these sites, but to remind us who we are and where we come from. Each Park is a chapter in the story of the American experience.
Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.