While discussing the origins of our country’s national parks, there’s one name you absolutely need to know: John Muir. A Scottish immigrant, Muir’s fervent love of nature and profound eloquence when writing about America’s untouched landscapes played a vital role in the establishment of the National Park System. Muir devoted his life to the preservation of the sprawling forests of the western United States. And during the final decades of the 19th century, Muir’s admiration for nature, specifically California’s Yosemite Valley, compelled him to petition Congress for the National Park Bill. This now famous bill eventually passed in 1890 – creating the first official national parks, with Yosemite being the first.
Concurrent to John Muir’s push for the creation of national parks, another crusader for natural preservation was rising to power: President Theodore Roosevelt. After first visiting the Badlands of South Dakota in 1883, Roosevelt began to voice serious concerns about the decimation and eradication of wildlife taking place in America – blaming society’s seeming impression that our natural resources were inexhaustible. When he became President in 1901, he used his power to ensure that our wildlife and public lands would be preserved.
During his time in office, Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land by founding the United States Forest Service, creating the Federal Bird Reserve and enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act. At the end of his term in 1909, Roosevelt’s impact on conservation was immeasurable, but there was still work to be done. At that time, the National Parks were being managed as individual, unrelated entities. That would soon change.