Conservation trends

151 Years of Redwood Conservation

This week, I spoke at U.C. Berkeley’s parks summit – Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century – about how our modern redwood park planning efforts still reflect the foundational guiding principles articulated in the first park plans of the United States. While some of our motivations for creating and sustaining parks have evolved over the past 150 years, many have remained steadfast.

About sixteen mounted soldiers of F Troop standing in front of "Grizzly Giant", a Big Tree in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, California, ca.1902. Photo by Charles C. Pierce. USC Libraries Species Collection.

About sixteen mounted soldiers of F Troop standing in front of “Grizzly Giant”, a Big Tree in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, California, ca.1902. Photo by Charles C. Pierce. USC Libraries Species Collection.

Frederick Law Olmsted wrote an amazing park plan for Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove in 1865, just one year after congress designated Yosemite for the public interest and created our Nation’s first park. Olmsted’s plan called for protection of the park’s resources so that people could enjoy Yosemite’s scenic and recreational values for many generations. He realized that while only a few hundred people had traveled to the Grove in few years leading up to the park’s establishment, over time millions of people would come to see the spectacular granite landscape and the remarkable giant sequoia groves. He called for investment in park infrastructure including roads and cabins, to improve park visitors’ experience. Incredibly, he worried about making the park accessible to low-income Americans who would struggle financially to visit Yosemite if the trip was too lengthy and arduous. These are issues we still face daily as we seek to make parks accessible to an increasingly urban populace. Shockingly, his excellent recommendations were suppressed by a few members of a legislative commission and this plan was not publicly recognized until 1952!

Nearly 60 years later, Olmsted’s son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., wrote a comprehensive California park survey to guide the establishment of the California State Parks system. More than 140 volunteers surveyed the numerous beaches, forests, waterways, and geographic features of California to help report on the natural resources worth protecting in the public interest and to recommend a portfolio of park projects that would become many of the state parks we enjoy today (sounds like citizen scientists to me!). This plan called for the creation of many redwood and giant sequoia parks that were soon established including Prairie Creek, Hendy Woods, Big Basin, and Calaveras.

In the decades following these thoughtful park reports, tremendous public and private effort has gone into building and sustaining our network of redwood parks. Resoundingly, the primary redwood park goal is still to protect our irreplaceable natural landscapes and enhance parks visitors’ experiences, for the sake of the forests and us.

Read about the future plans for Mariposa Grove here.

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