Seventeen Years – 03

Seventeen Years to Success: John Muir, William Gladstone Steel, and the Creation of Yosemite and Crater Lake National Parks

 Ramifications of the Park Campaigns

Although Muir and Steel at last saw their proposals favorably received by Congress, neither park retained all of what Steel obtained in 1886 and Muir won in 1890. Crater Lake National Park was established without the adjoining Diamond Lake area which had been in the original reservation. The opposition generated by Pinchot’s Forest Service has been successful in stopping Diamond Lake’s incorporation into the park and all but two minor extensions.(45) Yosemite National Park was reduced by boundary changes in 1905, which allowed some notable giant sugar pines to pass into private ownership. The trees were restored to the park in 1939 over the objection of the Forest Service, but they seemed small compensation for the part Pinchot played in damming Hetch Hetchy.(46)

Perhaps the long campaigns waged by Muir and Steel also have a lesson. Park management continues to deal with problems that both men thought were going to be solved by enactment of their proposals. It may have saddened Muir to find the National Park Service having difficulty implementing its plan to reduce congestion in Yosemite Valley. A similar irony exists at Crater Lake where extensive research is being conducted to determine if a geothermal energy company’s drilling outside the park could affect the lake.

We owe an enormous debt to these two men and other activists who have seen their proposals added to the National Park System. They were willing, as few people have been, to carry a considerable burden for little material gain. In most cases (Muir is a notable exception) the reward of activists has been obscurity. Nonetheless, as Steel expressed it in 1930, there is an intangible satisfaction:

Plundering through this wilderness of sin and corruption, tasting of its wickedness, forgetting my duty to God and man, striving to catch bubbles of pleasure and the praise of men, guilty of many transgressions, I now look back on this my 76th birthday, and my heart bounds with joy and gladness, for I realize that I have been the cause of opening up this wonderful lake for the pleasure of mankind, millions of whom will come and enjoy a and unborn generations will profit by its glories. Money knows no charm like this and I am the favored one. Why should I not be happy?(47)

Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank Mark Wagner, Maureen Briggs, Melanie Smith, and Kent Taylor for their assistance in the preparation of this paper. It was originally presented to the 43rd annual meeting of the California History Institute in Stockton, California.


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