Friday, June 17, 2016

Yosemite: A History of Presidential Attention

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite Valley, Cal (1903), Photographer: Pillsbury. California Historical Society.
This Father’s Day weekend, President Obama and the first family will pay a visit to Yosemite National Park to highlight the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and the President’s efforts to preserve natural resources, according to a release from the White House. President Obama is the first sitting President to visit the park since John F. Kennedy did so in 1962, over 50 years ago.

Prior Presidential visits to Yosemite included Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, William Howard Taft in 1909, and Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 (see above). The trip so impressed Teddy Roosevelt that it ultimately led to the expansion of Yosemite and Roosevelt establishing five other national parks, among many of his other conservation efforts. 

Interestingly, Yosemite may have received its most important attention from a President who never visited. On June 30, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant which marked the first federal act to protect wild lands for the enjoyment of people and the first California State Park.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of this Act, the California Historical Society created Yosemite: A Storied Landscape, a major public history initiative that included a powerful exhibition, eBook, and related program series. (CHS's current exhibition, Experiments is Environment—about the famous collaboration between Anna and Lawrence Halprin in the 1960s—is also connected to Yosemite, as Lawrence Halprin was inspired by the Sierra Mountains in his design of the Yosemite Falls Approach.)

As noted above, President Obama is using his trip to highlight the Centennial of the The National Park ServiceThe NPS was established in 1916 after a group organized by Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright gathered at UC Berkeley in 1915 (on the sidelines of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition) to plan a future for the existing and evolving national parks in the country. (Last year, UC Berkeley celebrated the Centennial of its role in creating the national parks system with a major symposium.) 

"I want to make sure that the whole world is able to pass on to future generations the God-given beauty of this planet," Obama said in a Facebook video announcing next week's trip. The visit will certainly serve as an example of respecting our public lands and, more importantly, preserving legacy.

The California Historical Society has been celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service with a series of essays on national parks in California. Read more from the "Mirror of Us" series below:

Sarah Lee

California Historical Society
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