It became the world’s first national park. The drama of our natural world unfolds before the nation’s eyes. Its volcanic power rises up in mudpots, colorful hot springs, and spouting geysers. Mountains, forests, and pristine lakes are home to unforgettable wildlife. The history of Yellowstone leads to its conservation as a national treasure “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Yellowstone was located at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Plateau Indian cultures, and these had a traditional connection to resources. As such, Yellowstone was originally a place where Native Americans hunted, fished, gathered, and worshiped.
John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition had left the group during its return journey to explore the area with fur trappers in 1807. When he told others about the incredible sights, he was met with ridicule. Some thought he had hallucinated when he described the “Hot Spring Brimstone” and jokingly referred to the area as Colter’s Hell.
The legendary mountain man, Jim Bridger, also told others of this fantastical place. He remarked there was a canyon so deep, he would shout “Wake up, Jim!” into it at night and then be awakened by his own echo the next morning.
After many expeditions later, other parties passed through the boiling sulphur springs, and the rumors were proven to be true. Finally in 1871, a young artist named Thomas Moran accompanied a photographer and finally captured incredible images that allowed Americans their first glimpse of the fabled landscape.
In March of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill to make Yellowstone a national park, the first in the world. After years of mismanagement, poaching, and desecration of landmarks, Congress passed the National Park Protection Act in 1894, which gave the U.S. Army authority to protect the park’s treasures.
This set the stage for the creation of the National Park Service. President Woodrow Wilson approved the congressional act in 1916 and established a management framework that served Yellowstone for decades.
The onset of World War II drew away not only employees and visitors, but money to maintain the park. Some projects were left unfinished due to funds being redirected to the war effort. Following the war, visitation skyrocketed and the neglect of the war years was evident. Congress eventually funded an improvement program directed at improving and modernizing the park.
These cumulative years have shown that the effort to establish Yellowstone as a national park was much more than just preserving a wild and unique landscape. The ideas and concepts led to all the national parks Americans enjoy—wilderness as an inheritance to everyone, its preservation and stewardship our charge.
Try It: Yellowstone Poetry
As Yellowstone National Park was created “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” what mark has it left on the experience of America as a nation? Whether or not you’ve visited, what feelings does Yellowstone evoke in you? How is the landscape something we can be proud of? Write a poem about this national treasure.
Thanks to everyone who participated in our last poetry prompt. Here’s a poem from Shelly we enjoyed:
Every morning as I turn kale and blueberries upside down
In a magic cup swimming of almond milk,
my mind returns to a kitchen in Kansas
where a supersized granite island holds
an altar of remembrance
for three friends now scattered by time.
I ache to turn back the clock,
add one more day on a string of five,
but I sigh into the quiet instead.
Photo by Che-Wei Chang, Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland