Seed of the Future:Yosemite and the Evolution of the National Park Idea


Seed of the Future: Yosemite and the Evolution of the National Park Idea
is a beautiful book, with gorgeous pictures and heavy paper that made me hesitate to underline and write in the margins.*

It is also an excellent work of history. Written by award-winning filmmaker and writer Dayton Duncan in conjunction with the Yosemite Conservancy, Seed of the Future tells the story of the National Parks System through the lens of the Yosemite Land Grant, which pre-dated the creation of Yellowstone as the first national park by eight years. (Who knew?)

The Yosemite story as Duncan tells it is one of natural marvels, national pride, successful PR, political infighting, attempted land grabs, and determined individuals. Teddy Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir make their expected appearances. Ralph Waldo Emerson and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted play unexpected roles. (Unexpected to me at any rate.) The park’s first guardian, Galen Clark, is heroic in his dedication.

The heart of the story is not the action or the characters–gripping though they are–but the development of a new idea about public space. Today the idea of preserving wild areas for public use is so common that we take it for granted.** When Congress passed the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, the idea of saving wilderness for public use was unheard of. Distributing public land for private use was more common, at least in the United States. The Homestead Act that allowed the head of a household to claim 160 acres with little more than sweat equity was passed only two years before. The Yosemite Grant Act occurred in a narrow space where ideas about democracy, wilderness, the Sublime, tourism and health came together.

If you’re interested in national parks, American history, or how big ideas are created from many small ones, you’ll enjoy Seed of the Future. Even if all you do is look at the pictures.

* How do you have a conversation with a book if you don’t mark it up? And more important from your perspective, how do I remember what I want to say in a blog post?
**Taking preservation for granted is dangerous. Like many of our liberties, the idea of preservation must itself be protected.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress


  1. Valerie Rind on December 9, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Pamela, this sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review. I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time just a few years ago with my sister. (When we were growing up, our family opted for Florida vacations.) I hope to read this book before our next trip to Yosemite or Yellowstone.

    • pamela on December 9, 2013 at 2:30 am

      Valerie: I hope you enjoy the book. I haven’t been to either Yosemite or Yellowstone yet, but I spent a lot of my childhood in and around the Mark Twain National Forest. I’m a big believer in preservation.

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