Preservation of Nature in National Parks for the Common Good

150 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park, Boston’s Emerald and many other city parks outlined various ideas for other spaces like Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Sequoia Grove in California. Olmsted’s recommendations for Yosemite went unheeded during that time but it helped in shaping parks the way they are managed today. The majestic scenery of Yosemite today bears the imprint of Olmsted both as a designer and nature advocate.

When Olmsted visited Yosemite Valley has was visibly struck by its dramatic cliffs and pastoral valleys which he described as a unified landscape that should preserved as a whole. There was a practical reason to hold Yosemite for the public because protecting its beauty would attract tourists and money. Olmsted also has a long standing belief that nature has a profound effect on people’s psychology because it gave them pleasure and increases their capacity for business.

However, access to nature has become a monopoly of the very rich and influential and the greater mass of society were excluded from the greatest benefits that nature provides. Today, people think only of parks as recreational places and natural preserves but in the 19th century parks had a political and social mission.

Olmsted had two goals for park management: to make the scenic areas accessible to the public through roads and facilities and to protect the parks so that they will be enjoyed by future generations. Olmsted also made a forecast of Yosemite’s popularity that it will become accessible to millions of people. New facilities however should be compatible with the nature and there was must be solution to control the number of people that will go into the wilderness.

Influential journalists and park advocates picked up the major points of Olmsted’s report using them as the frame for a campaign towards land preservation that had a profound influence within cities as well as wilderness areas. Olmsted also used the same language in the 1880’s in his efforts to protect Niagara Falls.

Eventually there became widespread recognition across the country that cities not only needed national parks but they must be protected landscapes. Wilderness preservation in parks must be relevant to everyone and not just a place to have a vacation.