The First Parks
Tracing the origin of the national park idea is like nailing jelly to the wall. Yet in the mid-nineteenth century there was nothing resembling even an embryonic conservation movement, no organized sentiment for protecting scenic wonders in some systematic fashion, no mention anywhere in the world of setting aside outstanding landscapes as public parks. Yosemite was an important precursor; the argument is even advanced, mostly by Californians, that it was in fact the first national park. Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite, and General Grant were supervised by the War Department. Prospectors wandering through the Yellowstone country in the 1860s brought back reports, mostly hearsay, that excited the citizens of Montana Territory. Yellowstone, they discovered, was a wonderland surpassing their most optimistic hopes, and they spent a month marveling at the curiosities: geysers and hot springs, waterfalls and canyons. The publicity prompted the Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories to send a party of scientists to Yellowstone the following summer.