Olmsted, Yosemite, and the Tender Beginnings of Our National Park System


Imagine yourself seeing this …

During a brief stint as superintendent of the Mariposa Mining Estate operations in 1863, Olmsted took a side trip to Yosemite Valley. Both himself and the others with him were among the first white people to lay eyes on this natural wonder. Olmsted immediately fell in love with what he saw.

Yosemite Falls

…and this…

When Congress granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California in 1864, Olmsted was appointed by California Governor Frederick Low to lead the nine-member Yosemite Commission. His 1865 report, “The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove,” was suppressed by those in favor of development and then lost until 1952. However, in his report he underscored:

–the importance of contact with wilderness for human well-being,
–the effect of beautiful scenery on human perception, and
–the moral responsibility of governments to preserve regions of  extraordinary natural beauty for the benefit of all the people.


…and this for the very first time.

The report includes thoughtful suggestions for managing the park for human enjoyment with minimal harm to the natural environment. Olmsted even created a resource inventory, a statement of purpose, and a park plan with goals and guidelines—using park planning principles that are still in use today.


Well, you can still do so today, thanks in part to the extraordinary vision of Frederick Law Olmsted

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton,my main character, writes his journal on a trip to Yosemite with his great aunt. I did this to underscore the far-reaching influence that Olmsted had, not just on landscape architecture, but the preservation of our natural resources as a whole.

Comments are closed.