Thomas Moran’s
 “Tower Creek, Yellowstone”

In 1872, Yellowstone was designated a “public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.” Note that the National Park Service wasn’t created until 1916, and so, in these early years, Yellowstone wasn’t afforded much protection. But the creation of the park was important as it planted the idea that lands could be set aside by the government even if the idea of actual protection lagged behind.

John Muir in 1872

In the 1870s, John Muir began writing about the importance of nature and was published in many magazines. His letters, essays and books were read widely, and were an influence on the thinking about preserving natural areas. In 1874, John Wesley Powell wrote a series of articles that generated public interest in the Grand Canyon.

The “Indian Wars” came to and end with the sad battle at Wounded Knee in 1890, and John Muir creates the Sierra Club in 1892 to enlist public and governmental support for the idea of preserving natural areas. Frederick Jackson Turner read a paper at the the American Historical Meeting in Chicago declaring that “the frontier is dead” in 1893. At the close of the century, Gifford Pinchot is appointed as Chief of the Division of Forestry for the country, which later became the National Forest Service, as the government began conservation of natural resources.

The next 50 years, 1900 – 1950, saw an increasingly ardent movement growing around the protection of natural places. The growth of the railroad opened up access to the western part of the country, including the Santa Fe which brought tourists to the Grand Canyon. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside the first National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island in Florida. The use of the Executive Order by sitting Presidents has been invaluable in protecting public lands.

Grand Canyon from Powell Point

Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1930 and wrote,
 “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.” 
 In 1906, the passage of the Antiquities Act allows Presidents to establish National Monuments and Devil’s Tower becomes the nation’s first followed by Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908.

In 1913, a major conservation fight is lost when a dam is allowed at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite. This loss boosts the determination of the environmental movement to increase their efforts for protection. Between 1920 and 1929, Arthur Carhart, Aldo Leopold, Robert Sterling Yard and others advance the idea of national wilderness preservation through their writings and appearances around the country.

Stay tuned — more on the history of Wilderness next week.