Abraham Lincoln has an almost saintly place in U.S. history: the “Great Emancipator” whose leadership during the Civil War preserved the Union and abolished slavery. Often overlooked among his achievements is legislation he signed June 30, 1864, during the thick of the war – but only marginally related to the conflict. The Yosemite Valley Grant Act preserved the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove in California as a park “held for public use, resort, and recreation … for all time.” It was the first time the federal government had set aside land for its scenic value, and it created a model for U.S. national parks, which are themselves hallowed sites in American culture.
Recently, former President Obama launched a Netflix series celebrating national parks and their breathtaking views. One of the parks he zoomed in on was the 2.2 million acre Yellowstone National Park, describing it as a park that is “fundamental to our national identity.” But underneath the beauty of Yellowstone lies an ugly history of union-busting and intimidation by government contractors of National Park Service workers, the ones who labor to keep the park beautiful — a legacy that Obama failed to curb as president and one that Joe Biden has yet to address as the current occupant of the White House.