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Theme: Parks with a Past

A Brief History of Bay Area Parks and Open Space
   Pt. 1, 1840s-1950s

A Conservation Timeline
   Pt. 1, 1840s-1950s

Up and Down the Peninsula and South Bay

Names on the Land
   Pt. 1, San Mateo County

Other Features

Sudden Oak Death

Oak Mortality Syndrome

Grazing Through Huckleberry Heaven

Old-Fashioned Huckleberry Muffins

Wild Lit

Note from the Literary Editor

Blacksmith Fork and Fox - Megan E. Hansen

Down Harkins Fire Road (El Mar de la Purissima - Greg Dunn


From the Editor

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The Trail Companion

Fall 2000

Theme: Parks with a Past

A Brief History of Bay Area Parks and Open Spaces
Part 1. From the 1840s through the 1950s


      It was the spectacular beauty of Yosemite Valley and its endangerment by similar speculative interests that prompted the idea of setting aside scenic lands simply to protect them for the enjoyment of all people.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls.
Photo by Watkins, Carleton E. "Bridalveil Fall from Cathedral Trail, Yosemite National Park, Calif." ca. 1860. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920, Library of Congress.
Appeals to Senator John Conness in the early 1860s resulted in a federal bill to that purpose, signed into law by President Lincoln on June 30, 1864. This date marks the practical beginning of both the national and state park systems. As the federal government had as yet no notion of getting into the park business, the responsibility for Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was granted to the State of California. Still, a precedent had been established. In 1872 the federal government did get into the park business by making Yellowstone in Wyoming the first official national park.
      In California, the Yosemite bill acted more as a precedent for delegation. Rather than imitate the nation by initiating a state park system, the state lent its authority to local parks. Mention has already been made of the 1870 act that established Golden Gate Park. Two years later, as the federal government created a national park, California made another municipal one, this time for San Jose - Alum Rock Park in Penitencia Canyon. In 1893, in an early instance of coastal protection, the state legislature intervened in a dispute between the citizens of Pescadero and a local landowner over access to Pebble Beach, setting aside beach lands from Pescadero Creek to Bean Hollow Lagoon for public use.
      Local parks and national parks - small in area and small in number - that was the picture as the nineteenth century drew to a close. That picture started to change with the growth of an organized conservation movement, or rather, movements. Early preservation efforts were be local causes, galvanized by local threats. The most prominent once again involved Yosemite, and its most important spokesman was John Muir. In 1890 his struggle for broader protection of the region resulted in the establishment of Yosemite National Park surrounding the existing state park, as well as Sequoia and General Grant National Parks to the south. (General Grant was expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park in 1940.) The dual federal-state control of Yosemite finally ended in 1906, when the state receded the valley and the Mariposa Grove to the nation and they were absorbed into the national park. As for Muir, two years after his success in Yosemite he founded the Sierra Club, which went on to embrace regional and even national causes. One of the former, a futile attempt from 1907 to 1913 to prevent San Francisco from damming Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley for drinking water, showed that the success of a conservation drive could by no means be taken for granted, even within the boundaries of a supposedly protected national park.

Conservation Goes Mainstream

More typical of the early conservation movement were three smaller scale attempts to save the Bay Area's remaining old-growth redwoods. Like Muir's crusade, Andrew P. Hill's effort in the Santa Cruz Mountains spawned an organization and paid off in a park. The organization was the Sempervirens Club (today's Sempervirens Fund), and the park California Redwood State Park (now Big Basin), established in 1902 as California's second (and oldest existing) state park. Unlike Muir's group, the Sempervirens Fund's activities have remained local. The efforts of Col. James B. Armstrong and the William Kent family were somewhat different. Possessed of more resources than hill, they simply bought the forest lands they wanted to preserve. Armstrong's interest lay in the 400 acres of big trees north of Guerneville later known as the Armstrong Grove. He intended to leave the grove to the state, but as no state agency then existed to administer it, his gift went unclaimed for a number of years after his death in 1900, its fate uncertain. Seventeen years later the grove was finally purchased by Sonoma County for a county park. It did not become a state park until 1934. Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth had better luck, or perhaps better connections. In 1905 they bought 295 acres of old-growth trees along Redwood Creek in the north bay, which they afterwards donated to the federal government. When Theodore Roosevelt declared the stand a national monument in 1908 he proposed naming it after Kent. The congressman preferred to memorialize John Muir, and it became Muir Woods National Monument.
      As interest in conservation and recreational use of the wilderness grew, people began to think regionally. In 1905 Oakland's Robinson Plan, which contained the recommendation to acquire Lake Merritt and other areas as parklands, also proposed a county park system for Alameda County. The proposal proved premature, but fed into later efforts.

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