Challenge of the Big Trees
NPS Arrowhead logo

Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


A Quiet Decade

Despite the presence of military troops, even the Sierran national parks received only minimal management. As the summers passed, a military routine developed for protecting Sequoia and General Grant national parks. Late each spring cavalry troops arrived in the parks, usually from the Presidio of San Francisco. After setting up a headquarters camp somewhere in the Mineral King area, most often at Weishar's Mill (modern Silver City), the acting superintendent sent detachments to outlying areas, usually including General Grant National Park. This work involved patrolling to keep sheep and cattle out of the park, to suppress fires, and to prevent hunting. Aside from expulsion from the parks, no penalties stood behind the secretary's rules and regulations, a problem that severely limited the troops' effectiveness. In time, ways were found to make the best of the poor situation, including an informal procedure for expelling trespassing sheep on one boundary and the offending shepherds at another location.

Several factors hindered the effectiveness of the military administration. None of the military officers who served as acting superintendent of the two parks served more than two consecutive summers, a policy that worked against long-term planning. Congress appropriated no funds for developing the parks, and the War Department invested only the minimum necessary to support its troops. Of visitors, only a trickle were to be found, owing primarily to lack of access. Nevertheless, the early military men took their charge of protecting the parks seriously, and within the limits of their situation, they largely succeeded in their task. The routine crumbled, however, during the summer of 1898, the year of the Spanish American War. Before troops finally arrived in September of that year, more than 200,000 sheep ravaged Sequoia National Park and a fire of some size burned in the Giant Forest. [52]

It fell to Second Lieutenant Henry B. Clark, acting superintendent of the two parks during the summer of 1899, to summarize the successes, failures, and visions of that first decade. His report is worth quoting at length:

The Sequoia Park, although 252 square miles in extent, is crossed by but one wagon road—that one of about 11 miles in length, and called the Mineral King Road. This so-called county road through a National Park is unsatisfactory, and presents many complications and opportunities for dispute with trespassers and stockmen. The county of Tulare spends but very little for its repair, while the General Government contributes nothing, though both are alike interested in the improvement of this single thoroughfare. The roadway is cut in the hillside, and the grade as now established is wretched.

Previous reports have referred to the Old Colony Mill road, but neglect and want of use for the past nine years have rendered this road impassable to wagons, and unless someone is interested in its repair very shortly this important thoroughfare will return to its primitive condition of a steep mountain side thickly covered with brush. This road was constructed to within 2 miles of the redwoods, though a 9-mile trail is now the only thoroughfare open to the tourist from the end of the Colony Mill road grade. Wagons cannot approach nearer than 20 miles from the forest.

Resort must be had to the mountain trail for all travel through the Sequoia Park. Of these trails there are many, some made by hunters, some by cattle men, and others by the troops in attempting to eject these trespassers. All are poorly marked, and many were obliterated by the invading sheep last season. No attempt was made to follow anything like an even grade in their construction, and their condition is not inviting to the average tourist.

It is to be presumed that the Sequoia and General Grant National parks were established for two purposes: First to preserve the redwood trees and, second, to protect the watershed of the rivers which drain this region of the Sierras. The mere detailing of troops, which will faithfully execute their military orders, is sufficient to accomplish both these ends. But, what is a park—a national park? Is it a playground for the people, a resort for the tourist, a mecca for travelers, a summer house where inhabitants of crowded cities can repair and fill their lungs with the pure air of mountain and forest—where poet, artist, clerk, and artisan, without discrimination, can stand on lofty peak and breathe the inspiration of scenes of grandeur? If this makes a park, then the Sequoia National Park is a failure—a failure not because it wants in snow-clad peak, in noble game, in frightful precipice, deep gorge, or ragged canyon, but because the people find its beauties and its wonders inaccessible.

It is time that a systematic development of Sequoia National Park be inaugurated. Money has been spent generously on Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Chickamauga, but not a dollar on Sequoia or General Grant National Park. I would, therefore, earnestly recommend that reasonable appropriation be made at once. [53]


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4g.htm — 12-Jul-2004