Celebrating Yosemite

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comJuly 1, 2014 

With the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, there was plenty to celebrate this past week — which was filled with history, patriotism and notable speeches.

The Yosemite Grant Act, signed June 30, 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln, protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. Under this law, scenic natural areas were set aside and protected for the benefit of future generations for the first time in the nation's history. As a result, the Mariposa Grove is among the world's 65 remaining natural giant sequoia groves — with trees living thousands of years.

Yosemite Grant Act commemorated

Within Yosemite National Park on Monday, a large crowd attended a formal ceremony during which guest speakers Tom McClintock and Jim Costa, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, and Yosemite Conservancy's Chair Phil Pillsbury and President Mike Tollefson — spoke on how this act gave birth to the idea of the national parks across the states.

"On the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, we stand in awe among these giant trees that are thousands of years old," National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said, "and are reminded about the importance of protecting our natural resources so that future generations can experience what John Muir called 'nature's forest masterpiece.'"

A groundbreaking ceremony followed to kick-off the Mariposa Grove Restoration Project, a $36 million renovation at the Grove, to include removal of the parking lot. Because these giant sequoias, nearly 3,000 years old, have been unintentionally damaged by the continual stream of vehicles and pedestrians, the parking lot and visitor facilities will be relocated to the South Entrance to the park, and the Grove's natural habitat will be reestablished.

Later in the day, a park heritage program was held in front of the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, which included a deed presentation for land being donated by the Pacific Land Trust, and officials from the National Park Service and California State parks speaking on the importance of parks and the shared heritage between Yosemite National Park and the California State Park System.

Yosemite Festival held in Oakhurst

Mountain Area residents had the opportunity to attend a closer-to-home celebration — the Yosemite Festival — last Saturday at the Oakhurst Community Park. Lincoln (Gary Talley) stood tall on the bridge, welcoming guests to the celebration. Passers-by stopped to shake his hand, pose for a photo, or give a quick greeting, "Hey Abe." Talley, on the Golden Chain Board of Directors, has been playing the president for about eight months.

"They were looking for someone tall and skinny, and I fit the bill. It kind of snowballed from there," Talley said. He enjoys playing the part, loves history and is keen on giving back to the community.

Sherry Colgate tried to capture the magnificence of the giant sequoias by coming up with the idea to create a walk-through tunnel tree. Her husband, Ron, and Jim Elliott jumped at the opportunity to design and construct the "tree," which was placed above the Oakhurst Community Park entrance to enhance the festival experience.

While the president was busy doing his part, drummer Seth Altimus, 7, practiced his drum roll before leading a small group of children on stage with the Sierra Chamber Singers.

Gold panners, Matt Coates and Ernie Laszlo, Jr. gave gold-panning lessons, and talked to interested parties about the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa.

Ashley Mills, 9, spent time at the petting zoo, sponsored by Yosemite Equine Services, feeding a rabbit, and petting 3-month-old Pygora goat Katie Scarlett.

Tenaya Lodge offered nerf bows for children interested in target shooting. Wood carvers Brian Allen and Nate Lawrence displayed their carvings; Allen later gave a chainsaw carving demonstration. Informational booths, such as Cal Fire, the Oakhurst Library, and the Audubon Society were also on hand.

Still, with all the booths and simultaneous activities, a few attendees were more focused on themselves — like Ewan Larue, who turned one this May. Despite his many stumbles, Ewan was bound and determined, continuing to right himself in his attempt to walk towards his proud "papa" Joey of Wawona.

Mid-day, honored dignitaries Lincoln and conservationist John Muir (Frank Helling) were transported by wagon train to center stage, where they gave speeches on the part they played in the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864.

"If the Union had not been preserved, we would have had no future," Lincoln said, "... just as the land needed to be preserved for future generations."

Lincoln signs act on June 30, 1864

It was on May 17, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a junior Senator from California, John Conness, introduced a bill to preserve a location in the Sierra Nevada mountains "that are for all public purposes worthless — but which constitute perhaps, some of the greatest wonders of the world. It is a matter involving no appropriations whatever ... the property is of no value to the government.'

Conness' bill proposed something completely unprecedented in human history — setting aside 60 square miles of federal land encompassing Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees — to be transferred to the care of the State of California, on the condition that the tract of natural scenery be kept for the future enjoyment of everyone ... never to be opened for private ownership ... and instead be preserved for public use, resort, and recreation.

The Senate and the House passed the bill, and on June 30, 1864, Lincoln signed the law to forever preserve a beautiful valley and grove of trees he had never seen.

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