Yosemite Conservancy is Yosemite National Park’s primary philanthropic partner. In this role, we inspire people to preserve and protect the park and we enrich the visitor experience. In recent years, our donors have funded more than $100 million in grants for trail and habitat restoration, wildlife management, historic preservation and other high-priority efforts in Yosemite, resulting in more than 530 completed projects to date. Our Outdoor Adventures, art workshops, theater shows and volunteer programs create enriching experiences for park visitors of all ages, in every season.
Wondering where we got started? The Conservancy’s roots stretch back to 1923, when the Yosemite Museum Association was established as the original nonprofit partner organization in the National Park Service, created to manage funds for another NPS first — the first park building constructed to serve as a museum.
The following year, as construction was underway on the Yosemite Museum and its smaller, trailside cousin, the Glacier Point Geology Hut, the organization got an expanded role and a new name: the Yosemite Natural History Association. Over the next six decades, the Association worked in partnership with the NPS to offer interpretive programs, train naturalists, launch art and theater programs, and publish books including the Yosemite Nature Notes periodical.
In 1985, the organization evolved into the Yosemite Association. The freshly renamed park partner continued to collaborate with the NPS on educational services, in-park programs and publishing, while also launching a volunteer program, supporting Wilderness operations and taking on notable projects, such as the introduction of bighorn sheep around Tioga Pass in the late ‘80s.
Before the end of the decade, the Association’s Return to Light fundraising campaign led to the creation of the Yosemite Fund, established as a separate organization in 1988 to raise money for projects in the park. More than twenty-two years (and many notable accomplishments) later, the two organizations reunited as Yosemite Conservancy, which today draws on a 93-year legacy of pioneering partnership to fund important work throughout Yosemite, help visitors develop deep connections with the park, and celebrate the remarkable place that inspired the national park idea.
That’s the semi-short story. To learn more about our history, take a look at these milestones!
1864-1929, EARLY YEARS: A GROUNDBREAKING NATIONAL PARK ASSOCIATION
President Abraham Lincoln signs the Yosemite Grant Act on June 30, protecting Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley while making history with the nation’s first public-lands legislation.
President Benjamin Harrison signs legislation establishing Yosemite as the third national park in the United States.
The Organic Act creates the National Park Service to oversee the country’s growing network of protected lands and monuments; today the NPS manages more than 400 sites.
Stephen Mather, the inaugural NPS Director who, among many other achievements, helped acquire Tioga Road for public use, calls for “early establishment of adequate museums in every one of our parks.”
The Yosemite Museum Association is established to manage funds for building a new museum in the Valley and the trailside Geology Hut (then called the Glacier Point Lookout), pioneering a nonprofit partner model that thrives today through more than 70 national park cooperating organizations nationwide.
In the first of several name changes, the initially museum-focused organization becomes the Yosemite Natural History Association and expands its purpose to support a variety of projects and programs in the park.
The Association launches the Yosemite Field School of Natural History as a summer institute for aspiring naturalists; in the same year, the Glacier Point Geology Hut opens as an informal, open-air educational space focused on earth science.
Visitors peruse the opening displays at the two-story Yosemite Museum, which celebrates its 90th anniversary with a special exhibit in 2016.
1930-1984, MID-20TH CENTURY: EDUCATION, OUTDOOR EXPLORATION AND PUBLICATIONS
The Association establishes and supports Yosemite’s Junior Nature School (today’s Junior Ranger program) to inspire a new generation of park stewards.
Yosemite’s chief naturalist serves as the director of the Association, enabling to organization to function as an auxiliary of the NPS Naturalist Division.
The Association’s publishing initiative produces a range of new and reprinted titles highlighting Yosemite’s natural and cultural history; as of 2016, more than 60 books, maps and guides have been published through this program.
The Association creates the Yosemite Field Seminar program (today’s Outdoor Adventures) to provide expert-led workshops on topics such as ecology, botany, birding, and natural and cultural history.
By assuming responsibility for management of the Ostrander Ski Hut, the Association commits to ensuring the long-term preservation of the rustic two-story stone structure, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1941; today, the Conservancy continues to oversee this popular winter wilderness destination.
The Association begins working with the NPS and park concessioner to run Yosemite’s Art Activity Center, offering artist-led workshops for visitors of all skill levels.
On what would have been John Muir’s 145th birthday (April 21), actor and historian Lee Stetson stars in the Yosemite Theater’s inaugural show, “Conversation with a Tramp: An Evening with John Muir.” The year before, the Association had started working with the NPS and park concessioner to run Yosemite’s Art Activity Center, offering artist-led workshops for visitors of all skill levels. Those cultural beginnings have grown into today’s Conservancy-run theater and art programs, which offer an array of performances and workshops each season.
1985-PRESENT, RECENT HISTORY: PARALLEL PARTNERS DEEPENING CONNECTIONS WITH THE PARK
The Yosemite Natural History Association changes its name to the simpler Yosemite Association, to reflect the organization’s broad goals beyond the naturalist realm. To support a burgeoning fundraising effort established to help implement elements of the NPS 1980 General Management Plan, the Association establishes key partnerships with foundations and corporations, including Chevron, American Savings & Loan, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.
The Association’s fundraising arm, the Yosemite Fund, evolves into a separate organization dedicated to raising funds to support projects in the park. Over the next two decades, Fund donors contribute to the success of many notable projects, including renovations of classic overlooks such as Glacier Point, Olmsted Point, Tunnel View and Half Dome Overlook; the transformation of the area around Yosemite Falls; numerous trail and habitat restorations, including at Mirror Lake, Red Peak Pass and Lukens Meadow; scientific studies on everything from bogs to bugs; efforts to protect bears, frogs, bats, birds and other wildlife; and more.
A new corporate volunteer program is established to help with a black oak restoration project in the Valley, complementing existing opportunities for volunteers to support visitor information services and stewardship, and further strengthening partnerships with the park.
The Yosemite Fund launches a custom license plate program through the California Department of Motor Vehicles as a new way to support the park; in the same year, Association volunteers help kick off the brand-new Parsons Memorial Lodge Summer Series, which is today a well-established suite of seasonal programs featuring prominent writers, musicians, scientists and others.
Working closely with the NPS, the Association helps open the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center; today, the Conservancy supports the park’s Wilderness efforts by staffing the center and helping visitors reserve permits and bear-proof storage containers.
To make park visitors more “bear aware,” the Association creates “Keep Bears Wild” retail products and begins renting bear-proof food canisters; meanwhile, with support from Fund donors, the park installs its 2,000th bear-proof food locker. Wildlife management efforts such as these have helped contribute to a significant drop in bear-human encounters, from 1,600 in 1998 to 76 in 2015.
A survey shows that Yosemite’s peregrine falcon population has doubled since 1995, and confirms the presence of nesting falcons on El Capitan after a 16-year absence. Efforts to reintroduce peregrines supported by Yosemite Fund donors in the 1980s and 1990s helped contribute to the falcon’s removal from the Endangered Species List in 1999.
The Association and the Fund merge into Yosemite Conservancy, a unified organization that envelops the two partners’ fundraising and in-park programming efforts. Major accomplishments to date include:
A two-year study provides the first-ever documentation of a female Pacific fisher’s den tree in Yosemite, and lays the groundwork for future projects focused on researching and protecting the park’s rare carnivores.
The restoration of Tenaya Lake’s East Beach shoreline and wetlands sets the stage for a series of projects to improve trails and protect habitat at this “jewel” of Yosemite’s high country.
Support from donors helps expand two transformative Youth in Yosemite programs: Parks in Focus, which engages underserved Bay Area middle school students in weeklong photography workshops in the park, and the Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship, a premiere NPS internship experience where college students explore park-related careers while completing projects that benefit Yosemite.
Two donor-funded projects result in headline-worthy wildlife news. First, in January, a motion-activated camera image alerts biologists to the presenceof a rare Sierra Nevada red fox in northern Yosemite, the first sighting of the species inside the park in nearly 100 years. A few months later, a herd of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is released into the Cathedral Range, returning the endangered mammal to the heart of Yosemite’s wilderness after more than a century of absence, and continuing a 30-year legacy of protecting the species in the park.
This year, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Yosemite Museum, and our 93rd year as Yosemite’s primary partner. With support from donors, our 2016 grants are enabling the park to continue protecting bighorn sheep, owls, and bears; to restore legendary trails in the Valley and beyond; to preserve cultural and historical resources; to shape a new generation of park stewards; and much more. Our Outdoor Adventures, art workshops, theater performances and volunteer opportunities are encouraging people of all ages to explore, experience and support Yosemite in new ways. Along the way, we’re celebrating the National Park Service’s centennial year and all that our partners and supporters have helped accomplish in Yosemite!