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150th Anniversary of Yo-Semite Valley Land Grant

If Memorial Day marked the beginning of summer when I was young, then summer marked the time when the family would visit our local national parks and monuments such as Bandelier and Carlsbad Caverns.  Indeed, summer marks the time when millions of Americans visit state and national parks, forests and monuments.  June 30 of this year marks the 150th anniversary for one of our most famous national parks, Yosemite.  So what was happening in the United States 150 years ago when the park was first established?

June 1864 was a pivotal time in the American Civil War.  General Ulysses S. Grant was overseeing the Overland Campaign against the troops under Robert E. Lee; General Sherman had begun his campaign against Atlanta; and early in June President Lincoln was renominated by his party to run for his second term.  Congress was engaged in passing legislation to help in the war effort.  For example, on July 1, 1864, they passed an act “to provide for the efficiency of the navy.”  At the same time, they were looking forward and on June 30, 1864, Congress passed “An Act authorizing a Grant to the state of California of the ‘Yo-Semite Valley,’ and of the Land embracing the ‘Mariposa Big Tree Grove.'”  This land was granted under the express condition that California should hold the land open for “public use, resort and recreation.”

On October 1, 1890, Congress set aside certain tracts of land in California as forest reservations but noted “nothing in this act shall be construed as in anywise affecting the grant of to the State of California of the Yosemite Valley, and of the land embracing the Mariposa Big-Tree Grove.”  In 1901, Congress granted rights of way through certain parks and public lands including Yosemite.   These rights were granted for electrical power, telephones and telegraphs, canals and ditches, water plans and dams, and cutting of timber.  These rights of way are still in force today and can be found in the United States Code, Title 16, section 79.

Then in 1905, Congress excluded certain lands from the Yosemite National park and attached these lands to the Sierra Forest Reserve.  This law can also be found in the United States Code, Title 16, section 46.  But in 1984, in section 105 of Public Law 98-425, Congress added additional lands to Yosemite: “certain lands which comprise … ‘McCauley Ranch Addition.'”

Serendipitously, I went to a meeting in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress earlier this month and discovered myself at the Yosemite Conference Room!

Photograph by Andrew Weber

Photograph by Andrew Weber

Which also included a map of the park.

Photograph by Andrew Weber

Photograph by Andrew Weber

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