Yosemite to Dismantle Gift Shop, Parking Lot

To celebrate sesquicentennial, renovations keep the park awe-inspiring

Just one of the views that came under national protection from the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864: a sunset from the Half Dome. (Dan Parsons/Flickr)

In the midst of the Civil War, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act and created California's first state park, "the first protected wild land for all time," as the National Park Service paraphrases. Today, its nearly 12,000 miles of cliffs and sequoias remain a gem in the American outdoors. Still, many who love Yosemite have taken its sesquicentennial as an opportunity to continue improving upon the park.

As park officials commemorate the signing of the Yosemite Grant Act, which happened on this day in 1864, construction crews will also break ground on a project to bring some peace back to a sequoia grove. "The first thing you see now is the gift shop, and the first thing you hear is a generator," Sue Beatty, a biologist studying Yosemite's sequoias, told San Jose Mercury News. The park will remove a 113-space parking lot near sequoia-laden Mariposa Grove, placing a newer and larger one two miles away. They're also shuttering the gift shop and tourist tram.

A San Francisco nonprofit called the Yosemite Conservancy is donating $20 million for these efforts. "Sequoia groves are cathedrals," Yosemite Conservancy president Mike Tollefson says. "[Yosemite is] a place where you aren't in a hurry, where there's not noise and you can contemplate nature."

Continuing the tradition set 150 years ago of truly appreciating our natural treasures, Yosemite officials have also committed to other projects aimed at environmental education and telling Yosemite's stories.

If you're not lucky enough to be around Yosemite for its birthday celebrations, check out these beautiful vintage photos of the park from Life. They might just make you feel like you're off the grid for at least a few minutes.

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