Quiet Giants and the Legacy of Public Lands: Part 1 of 2

By Shauna Potocky


Public lands are by far one of the greatest gifts we have been given. They were saved by passionate people who came long before us; today, teams of inspired managers, educators, scientists, and volunteers work tirelessly to keep these amazing places open to us and protected for generations to come.

The birth of these legacies emerged in part, due to the work and passion of Galen Clark, a man who was inspired while standing amongst quiet giants—the Giant Sequoias of the Mariposa Grove. Galen helped to capture the interest and support of many other individuals and from this a legacy was born. On June 30, 1864 the first land grant of its kind emerged, the Yosemite Grant. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln, the Yosemite Grant protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for all time—a legacy that created the foundation for what would eventually become our state and national parks.

Watkins_Galen Clark

This gift of land preservation remains as profound today as it was then—yet, the true depth of this gift might still be emerging. Beyond the legacy, for example, the Mariposa Grove is teaching us—it is influencing how we understand and work within natural systems—from fire ecology to hydrology, sensitive species to ecosystem restoration; the grove serves as an important center of emerging knowledge.

When you consider that areas like the Mariposa Grove are some of the most protected land in our country—they become critically important classrooms and areas of study. Generally, protected with its natural systems intact, we can see precisely the effect of various management strategies and impacts. The results of these observations are impressive and profound.

One example of the lessons learned in the Mariposa Grove, is the influence of fire and the importance of its occurrence in Sierra Nevada ecosystems. This region evolved with fire as a natural part of its processes; a variety of trees and plants exhibit fire adaptations and require fire for germination—including the Giant Sequoia.

From the time of early settlers and holding fast in many areas even today, is the belief that fire is destructive and should be suppressed. Yet, the Grove has shown us a different perspective; when fire was suppressed in the Mariposa Grove for decades, concern emerged due to the lack of new sequoia seedlings. Land managers and scientists questioned this issue and eventually attempted to reintroduce fire into the ecosystem, with the result of new seedlings emerging.

What was found is that sequoias benefited from the understory fuels being cleared from the forest floor; the burned materials restored nutrients to the soil, opened space for germination and a new generation of seedlings could take root. Today, we see the importance of reducing fuel loads in order to maintain healthy ecosystems as well as reduce the risk of severe fires.

The lessons in the Mariposa Grove don’t end with fire ecology; in fact this grove has influenced our understanding of hydrology changes and impacts, invasive species, and plays a significant role in connecting people to nature.

Invasive species removal Mariposa Grove Ian Ojeda

Imagine putting your own hands to work protecting a Giant Sequoia in the Grove where the idea of land preservation began. Each year, volunteers of all ages work to restore impacted areas, remove invasive species and ultimately, become stewards to the environment.

What grows out of this service is a whole new generation of people with a passion for protecting some of the greatest natural wonders in the world—our ecosystems… and they take these lessons home to their own communities.

Galen Clark couldn’t haven known that his passion for the Giant sequoias in the Mariposa Grove would play such a significant role in the creation of public lands or transforming our understanding of natural systems. What he did know was that the Grove was awe-inspiring and worthy of protection.

What will your passion help to protect?


Part 2: Ponder the legacy of a sequoia grove that did not receive the same protection—you might just be surprised at what we find! Scheduled for release November 2013.


Cool Fact: Through the Yosemite Grant, State Parks had been created, and from this, eventually National Parks would emerge. In 2014 we have the honor of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant and State Parks!

Photo credits: Shauna Potocky; National Park Service; Ian Ojeda; National Park Service.

4 thoughts on “Quiet Giants and the Legacy of Public Lands: Part 1 of 2

  1. Shauna, I am so excited you wrote about this! Preserving and responsibly managing large tracts of land are the most effective way of preserving biodiversity. I have shared a link to several National Park facebook pages, starting alphabetically, and got through the “Gs” before facebook shut me down. I think everyone who loves National Parks ought to ignore the current government shut down for the temporary problem that it is and read this feel good information about the big picture, which is that our nation has a fantastic legacy of preserving the natural world. And it began with national government. As hard as the current times are, I believe we can continue the positive and proud legacy of saving what we love in America. There is nothing we can’t do when the passionate people come together. Thank you for reminding us of that!

    1. Dear Maymie,

      Thank you so much for sharing. We are some of the most fortunate people in the world and we often lose sight of that. Our public lands are a remarkable gift–having been established by the generations before us, here for us today and now, this is the legacy that we are all responsible for stewarding into the future for the people and wildlife, etc., that will come after us.

      Your love for the parks comes through–so pack a bag and get out there to see them! Study them, recreate in them, protect them and most importantly celebrate and share them!

      Let this time be a clear reminder that we must remain ever diligent in protecting these treasures and all that is good in our country/world. We must never lose sight of what is good and what is true. We must always aspire to inspire the best in others and ourselves–our public lands are one of the best places to make that happen.

      Shauna P.

  2. Great piece! I had no idea that the first land grant went all the way back to Lincoln – very interesting.

    1. Dear Darren,

      Remarkably, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant during the Civil War. What an incredible time in our history to birth what would become one of the greatest legacies of our country–not just one land grant but the beginning of something that would grow to be much bigger over time.

      Today, there are national parks all over the world!

      Shauna P.

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