Frederick Law Olmsted


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 and then lost until 1952. The report underscores

 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. 
The report includes thoughtful suggestions for managing the park for human enjoyment with minimal harm to the natural environment. Olmsted 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.

When Olmsted read his report—intended for the state legislature—at a Yosemite meeting in August of 1865, it was not well received by his eight fellow commissioners. Two of them saw to it that Olmsted’s report was suppressed—never heard by the legislature or governor—because it called for a parks appropriation of $37,000 at a time of severe budget cuts. These two commissioners feared that such an appropriation would compete for their funding for a geological survey. The treatise on recreation remained unheard and undiscovered until Olmsted’s biographer Laura Wood Roper published it in 1952.

From the report: “The purpose of such parks is to provide a feeling of relief experienced by those entering it on escaping from the cramped, confined, and controlling circumstances of the streets and of town. In other words, a sense of enlarged freedom is to all and all times the most certain value and gratification afforded by a park.”

Click here to read the full text of Olmsted’s 1865 report.**