Yellowstone National Park, the first national park not only in the United States but also in the world, celebrates its 150th anniversary in March of 2022.
After passage by Congress, on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. The Act reads, in part:
The headwaters of the Yellowstone River … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale … and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
Here’s why that was such a big deal, according to the National Park Service: “In an era of expansion, the federal government had the foresight to set aside land deemed too valuable in natural wonders to develop.”
“The idea of setting aside land for the public’s benefit was revolutionary,” writes Jana Bommersbach in True West magazine. At the time, Yellowstone lacked any of the protections that national parks enjoy today from private greed in the form of poachers, squatters, miners, woodcutters, firebugs and vandals. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in the 1880s Congress stripped even the modest funds set aside to manage Yellowstone, requiring the army to step in to protect the preserve.
“Although strong federal laws now protect the nation’s vast system of public parks, the debate continues to this day,” writes Bommersbach. “Each year, the National Park Service must fight for a decent operating budget—and Congress often raids the money it earns itself with visitor fees. There is still constant pressure by land speculators who see all that pristine property—not a value to everyone, but a goldmine for a few. And there are still politicians in Congress who think they’re right.”
The park is at the center of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the last and largest nearly intact natural ecosystems on the planet. It’s famous as a mecca for dramatic displays of natural hot water, with over 10,000 hydrothermal sites and half the world’s active geysers. The park is also rich in cultural and historical resources with 25 sites, landmarks, and districts on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Based on the park’s location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Columbia Plateau, many Native American Tribes have traditional connections to the land and its resources. For over 10,000 years before Yellowstone became a national park, it was a place where Native Americans hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes,” according to the Park Service.
The park has scheduled a variety of activities to mark the anniversary. Learn more on the 150 Years of Yellowstone webpage.