Which of these presidents is father to the National Parks?

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Closing time at Mount Rushmore National Park, South Dakota, September 14, 2021. Photo by Howard Fielding.

All four–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln–are honored on Mount Rushmore. But which planted the seed for the whole national park system?

Roosevelt, the conservationist and activist, is most associated with the National Parks system. His legacy of national parks and monuments includes Crater Lake, Wind Cave, Mesa Verde, Devil’s Tower, Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon.

But it was Abraham Lincoln who, on June 30, 1864, signed the Yosemite Grant Act, putting the territory under the protection of the state of California. This beautiful land was the traditional home of the Ahwahneechee people. Then came the Gold Rush of 1849. A private militia raided and destroyed their villages during the Mariposa Indian War of 1850-1851. When the gold rush didn’t pan out, the territory was open to speculators, tourists, and greed. State and federal protection as a park helped to bring peace and order.

Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act on June 30, 1864–158 years ago today. Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act on March 1, 1872, making Yellowstone America’s first national park.

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