Milestones in the History of California State Parks and the League

Save the Redwoods League has maintained a close partnership with California State Parks (CSP) since the League helped establish the state park system in 1927. Discover some of the major milestones in our shared history.


1862 Captain Israel Ward Raymond and California’s U. S. Senator John Conness wanted to have natural land areas at Yosemite set aside purely for the purpose of preservation and public enjoyment. At Raymond’s request, Senator Conness introduced a bill in the Senate that quickly passed through both Congressional houses.
1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act of June 30, 1864 (13. Stat. 325), granting the “Yo-Semite Valley” and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California. Governor Frederick Low accepted the grant in September of that year.
1880s Ralph Sidney Smith, editor and manager of the Redwood City Times and Gazette, began to enlighten his readers about the need to preserve part of California’s unique redwood forests. Smith’s life was cut short with his murder, but he had planted the seed that would ultimately reach fruition as California’s first redwood state park. His crusade was picked up and carried on by other prominent Californians, such as photographer Andrew P. Hill, by members of the newly-formed Sempervirens Club, and by writers who promoted the idea of forever preserving the best of California.
1890 The lands surrounding the State of California’s Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove were set aside as Yosemite National Park.
1902 The newly-appointed California Redwood Park Commission approved acquisition of the first 2,500 acres in Big Basin at a cost of $100 per acre. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is now the oldest California state park set aside for its natural values.
1906 The land granted to the state of California by the Yosemite Grant Act was returned to the federal government, becoming part of the surrounding Yosemite National Park that had been formed in 1890.
1917 Stephen Mather encourages John C. Merriam, Henry Fairfield Osborn and Madison Grant to drive into the northern redwoods and survey the landscape, wrought with the destruction of the axe and the saw.
1918 Merriam, Osborn and Grant founded Save the Redwoods League.
1920s With leadership from Save the Redwoods League, a broad coalition of groups and individuals united their collective powers into the campaign for legislation establishing a state park system.
1925 Though the parks legislation had garnered unanimous public support, Governor Richardson defeated the set of bills by refusing to sign them.
1926 C.C. Young won the gubernatorial election in California. Save the Redwoods League’s Newton Drury revived the campaign for state parks legislation.
1927 The state park legislation, in the form of three bills, gained the unanimous approval of the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor C.C. Young. The bills provided for the creation of a single state park commission to administer a unified park system; provided for a survey of potential park sites; and provided for submission to the voters a $6 million bond issue to provide funds for state park acquisitions.
1928 Californians voted nearly three-to-one in favor of a $6 million park bond act. Seventeen parks and 15 full-time employees were incorporated into the newly established Division of Parks. In addition, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. completed a statewide survey of potential park lands that defined basic goals and provided guidance for the acquisition and development of state parks. With Newton Drury serving as acquisition officer, the new system of state parks rapidly began to grow.
2013 California State Parks has grown to be the largest state park system in the United States with 280 park units and almost 70 million visitors annually.

Sources: California State Parks (external link) and State Parks of California: From 1864 to the Present by Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr.