What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass
and loses itself in the sunset.
When the earth is sick and dying,
There will come a tribe of people
From all races . . .
Who will put their faith in deeds,
Not words, and make the planet
Green again . . .
— Cree prophecy
The idea of land being preserved for everyone to enjoy was first expressed in 1832 (that’s just 56 years after the birth of United States of America in 1776) and is credited to artist George Catlin. During a trip to the Dakota region in 1832, Catlin, best known for his paintings of Native Americans, pondered the impact the western expansion would have upon these civilizations, the wildlife and the wilderness. He wrote that they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park…a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”
Though Catlin’s idea was seemingly impractical at the time and “had no immediate effect,” just 32 years later the “national park idea came to partial fruition in 1864” when President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress to transfer the federally-owned Yosemite Valley and nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California on condition that they would “be held for public use, resort, and recreation . . . inalienable for all time.”