Frederick Law Olmsted's Failed Encounter with Yosemite and the Invention of a Proto-Environmentalist

Abstract : In 1865 Frederick Law Olmsted read to the Yosemite Commissioners a report detailing his ideas about California's newly reserved natural space and his recommendations for its development as a "public park or pleasure ground." His text, "The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Trees: A Preliminary Report," was lost for almost a century until his biographer Laura Wood Roper unearthed it, pieced it together, and published it. In spite of the lack of response it obtained at the time of it was written, Olmsted's text is now held up as a foundational document for both the National Parks system and environmentalism. This paper investigates how the stillborn proposal came to achieve canonical status in the late twentieth century and how legends concerning it have accrued. The report has become the road not taken; it allows people to imagine what the Yosemite National Park might have remained if it had not been subject to intense development. Taken up by contemporary environmentalists, Olmsted's text is made to authorize a myth of origins that is simpler and more inspiring than the tangled reality of events. This article analyses the report to show how the contradictions in Olmsted's vision for the park would not have permitted its preservation in the condition in which nineteenth century visitors found it.
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Wendy Harding. Frederick Law Olmsted's Failed Encounter with Yosemite and the Invention of a Proto-Environmentalist. Ecozon@, 2014, 5 (1), pp.123-135. ⟨hal-01023008⟩

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