Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jun 30 (1864) Yosemite Preserved for the Public: "The holiest ground the heart of man has consecrated"

The Hetch-Hetchy meadow in 1913, before reservoir construction began
Hetchy-Hetchy meadow before dam construction in 1913
On this day in 1864, President Lincoln signed a bill that preserved Yosemite Valley in California for public use, a precursor to the national park system. In the second half of the 19th century, naturalists like John Muir fought for greater conservation, in part because of Niagra Falls. In 1864, Niagra Falls was so dominated by commercialism and industrialization that sightseers had to pay even for a glimpse.

In 1906, in a letter to President Roosevelt, Muir wrote his concern for the proposal to dam the Hetch-Hetchy valley in Yosemite. Muir discredited the argument made by banker and senator James D. Phelan that converting  Hetch-Hetchy into a reservoir will simply mean transforming it into a lake instead of a meadow.

"But Hetch-Hetchy is not a meadow: it is a Yosemite Valley. These sacred mountain temples are the holiest ground that the heart of man has consecrated and it behooves us all faithfully to do our part in seeing that our wild mountain parks are passed unspoiled to those who comes after us, for they are the natural properties in which every man has a right and an interest. 

I pray therefore that the people of California be granted time to be heard before this reservoir question is decided...What the public opinion of the world would be may be guessed by the case of the Niagra Falls."

Hetch-Hetchy in 2006
Hetch-Hetchy "lake" in 2005
Further Reading
The Life and Letters of John Muir
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.