October 1st, 2012 by

Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park. Credit: Randy Le'Moine Photography/Flickr

One hundred and twenty-two years ago today, one of America’s most celebrated national parks came into being – Yosemite. Located in the central eastern portion of California and covering an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, this park boasts dramatic valleys, a protected grove of ancient sequoia trees, waterfalls coursing into Yosemite Valley, and hundreds upon hundreds of wildlife species. No wonder it draws in more than 4 million visitors every year!

Yosemite National Park’s landscapes and features have inspired awe and wonder in its beholders for centuries, but one man in particular was especially moved by its scenery. John Muir, revered by many as “the father of conservation,” played a critical role in the establishment of Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890.

Muir first set foot in Yosemite in 1868 and – in a sense – never left. He settled nearby, working first as a shepherd and later at a sawmill, and wrote various articles for publication in newspapers across the country. Deeply attached to the area and with a burgeoning interest in preservation, he became a prolific writer and somewhat of a Yosemite spokesman.

In the 1880s, Muir focused his attention on areas surrounding the state-administered Yosemite Grant, which had been set aside in 1864, and threw himself into the preservationist role with great vigor. He was alarmed by livestock animals’ degradation of the delicate ecosystems of the High Sierras and sought to convey this threat to Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine. In 1889, he took Johnson to the park and impressed upon him the need to incorporate the area into a national park. After Johnson’s publication of Muir’s exposés, a bill emerged in Congress. It proposed creating a federally administered park surrounding the old Yosemite Grant, and it passed. The following year, Yosemite National Park was born.

He did not rest at this achievement, however. In 1903, Muir led President Theodore Roosevelt on a tour of Yosemite and lobbied for additional protections. Three years later, state authorities ceded the land under the Yosemite Grant to the federal government, thus completing the park.

Muir only truly lived in Yosemite for a few years, but his experience there left him forever changed. After discovering his calling in the California wilderness, he embarked on what would become a lifelong fight for preservation.