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Yosemite National Park may be one of the world's most impressive landscapes, with its granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves. But while the beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains is a product of 10 million years of geologic shifts and slow evolution, the park itself is a legal creation, and a very important one at that. Yosemite became the nation's first parkland set aside for preservation when Congress passed the Yosemite Grant Act, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. That act planted the seed that would grow into the National Parks System, or, as the writer Wallace Stegner described them, "America's best idea."
Now, Yosemite is growing larger still, with the addition of 400 acres of meadowland and ponderosa pine, the park's largest expansion in two generations.
Yosemite's newest expansion is the result of a donation by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. The Trust purchased Ackerson Meadow from private owners for $2.3 million and donated it to the National Parks Service, according to the Los Angeles Times. The new meadowland is home to the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, 200 great gray owls, deer, bear, coyotes, and over 100 species of plant, including many impressive meadow wildflowers.
The National Parks Service remains Yosemite's younger brother, just 100 years old this year, to Yosemite's 152. (We're talking years as protected land here, not geological age.) "Donating the largest addition since 1949 to one of the world's most famous parks is a great way to celebrate the 100th birthday of our National Park Service - and honor John Muir's original vision for the park," said Will Rogers, the president of the Trust for Public Land.
The borders of Yosemite have grown, shifted, and even shrunk throughout its history. The Yosemite Grant, for example, ceded the valley and Mariposa Grove to the state of California and it took a Supreme Court ruling in 1872 to kick homesteaders out of the parkland. John Muir and the Sierra Club campaigned for greater protections for Yosemite, resulting in the Yosemite National Park Act of 1890. When California receded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove in 1906, that too required an act of Congress.
Of course, expanding a national park isn't a simple task, but it now requires a bit less congressional action. Today, (thanks to 16 U.S.C. 460l-9(c)(1)) the National Parks Service is able to modify park boundaries administratively, as the NPS last did to Yosemite in 2013, expanding the park following a donation of 80 acres. And that border expansion creates significant legal protections, including limitations on resource extraction, development, and management of the land -- all to help preserve Yosemite for future generations.
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