The Ahwahneechee, a group of Miwok and Paiute peoples, lived in the Yosemite area for 4000 years before a group of pioneers, most likely led by legendary explorer Joseph Rutherford Walker, came through in 1833. During the Gold-Rush era, conflict between the miners and native tribes escalated to the point where a military expedition (the Mariposa Battalion) was dispatched in 1851 to punish the Ahwahneechee, eventually forcing the capitulation of Chief Tenaya and his tribe later that year.
Tales of thunderous waterfalls and towering stone columns followed the Mariposa Battalion out of Yosemite and soon spread into the public’s awareness. In 1855 San Francisco entrepreneur James Hutchings organized the first tourist party to the valley. Published accounts of his trip, in which he extolled the area’s untarnished beauty, prompted others to follow and it wasn’t long before inns and roads began springing up. Alarmed by this development, conservationists petitioned Congress to protect the area - with success. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which eventually ceded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to California as a state park. This landmark decision paved the way for a national park system of which Yosemite became a part in 1890, thanks to efforts led by pioneering conservationist John Muir.
Yosemite’s popularity as a tourist destination continued to soar throughout the 20th century and, by the mid-1970s, traffic and congestion draped the valley in a smoggy haze. The General Management Plan (GMP) developed in 1980 to alleviate this and other problems ran into numerous challenges and delays. Despite many improvements, it still hasn’t been fully implemented, at least in part because of federal funding cuts. Ultimately, the powers that be must balance the needs of visitors with the preservation of the natural beauty that draws them to Yosemite in the first place.