As wild country disappeared after the Civil War, increasingly large numbers of Americans clamored for wilderness preservation. In 1864 Congress set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias as wilderness preserves and then ceded these properties to the state of California to administer for the people in perpetuity. In 1872 Congress established Yellowstone National Park, which stands as the first true national park in the world
The U.S. Census Bureau's announcement of the frontier's closure in 1890 and widespread anxiety over the loss of wilderness in the years immediately after further fueled interest in national parks. Tens of thousands of middle- and upper-class tourists, including members of new preservation groups such as the Sierra Club, made outings to wilderness parks, not just to see the sublime but also to hike and camp. Railroad companies, looking for increased traffic and revenues, also supported the national parks and even built hotels and chalets in some of the parks. Between 1890 and 1916 the federal government not only reclaimed Yosemite but also established 11 additional national parks. Some of these, such as Grand Canyon National Park, started out initially as national monuments, which were federal lands with historic, prehistoric, or scientific values that the president of the United States could set aside as prescribed by the Antiquities Act of 1906. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt was aggressive in applying the Antiquities Act to preserve wilderness.
Image: California, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, 1899 from the Library of Congress
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