Shiloh Park Superintendent
Aug. 25-- Today the National Park Service turns 100 years old, and there are celebrations and commemorations being held throughout the nation.
The parks and monuments have justifiably been called “the crown jewels” of America, and so it is appropriate that we celebrate “the best idea America ever had.”
The idea to create national parks has been credited to artist George Catlin. In 1832, as he traveled the Great Plains of the United States, Catlin recognized that the loss of wildlife and wilderness in our vast land might never be reclaimed.
He envisioned areas set aside, “by some great protecting policy of government, in a magnificent park, a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!”
Although it would take decades for this idea to grow, ultimately people began to develop an appreciation for preserving spectacular natural areas.
While Yellowstone would become the first National Park, the first land actually set aside for protection in the United States was Yosemite Valley, surrounded by the high granite summits “Half Dome” and “El Capitan.” In 1864, Sen. John Conness of California introduced legislation to transfer this federally-owned land to the state of California, so it might “be used and preserved for the benefit of mankind.”
The act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, with the provision that the land “be held for public use, resort, and recreation... inalienable for all time.”
In 1869, the geologically active sites in the Yellowstone region of Montana and Wyoming territories were highlighted by David Folsom, Henry Washburn, and Ferdinand Hayden in a joint publication. As with Yosemite, the idea of preserving this place for public benefit took hold.
But neither Montana nor Wyoming were states, so the park legislation was written to leave Yellowstone as federally-owned land. Consequently, on March 1, 1872, the very first national park in the world was created when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing Yellowstone National Park.