Struggle, Gold Digging, and Cannibalism: The Story of California State Parks

Have you ever wondered why Yosemite is a national park? Arguably the most glorious — and indisputably the most visited — in California, Yosemite was once under the state's dominion. It seems bad management has plagued this great state from the beginning, and even John Muir and the Sierra club could not stop the overgrazing of meadows and logging of Giant Sequoia. When Muir could take no more, he invited President Theodore Roosevelt to camp near Glacier Point, and by the third day, it was a done deal: Roosevelt took Yosemite from California and declared it a national park. This month an ambitious PBS two-part documentary California Forever will tell the story of the state parks, including the Yosemite debacle. In Part 1: The History of California State Parks, Oscar-nominated filmmakers David Vassar and Sally Kaplan invite viewers on a breathtaking tour of the park system, focusing on the contributions of early preservationists.

The documentary is as awe inspiring as it is heartbreaking, and perhaps nothing captures this duality more than the opening scene, when Augustus T. Dowd discovers giant sequoias in 1852. A year later, it took five men only 22 days to fell that very tree, believed to be 1300 years old. “They wanted to prove to the world that something was that big,” Kaplan explained, “without being conscious of what they were losing by proving that.” Sections were sent all over the world, and the stump was promptly used as a dance floor.

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