It’s quite the year for milestones in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Sequoia celebrates its 125th year as a national park in September. Kings Canyon National Park turned 75 years old in March.
It was 100 years ago in July that the Mather Mountain Party embarked from Giant Forest on an epic journey that ultimately resulted in the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.
Also, 80 years ago this week, the highway “between the parks” opened. This park-to-park highway connected Sequoia and what was then (until 1940) General Grant National Park.
And last weekend, on Saturday, June 20, over 170 people attended a ceremony held at the General Grant Tree to rededicate its status as a national shrine. The Grant Tree is well-known as the Nation’s Christmas Tree (1926), it is the second largest tree in the world, and it is also a national shrine (1956) — the only living object so designated — in memory of the men and women of the Armed Forces who have served and died in America’s wars.
At the ceremony, Superintendent Woody Smeck credited the military with being the earliest model for the National Park Service. He honored the military’s role in early park management.
The 40th Infantry Division Band Detachment 1, one of the oldest units in the California National Guard, performed. This band, organized in 1861, is also one of the oldest in the U.S. Army.
The Central Valley Vietnam Veterans’ Color Guard led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem.
The keynote speaker was decorated Air Force Captain (retired) Charles Shaheen Jr. of Reedley. He provided a history of the naming of the General Grant Tree and its subsequent dedication as a national shrine by a joint resolution of Congress.
Veterans in attendance were recognized with commemorative pins. All participants were invited to place small American flags on the fence surrounding the General Grant Tree.
GRANT TREE DESIGNATED AS NATIONAL SHRINE
From the Joint Resolution of March 29, 1956:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the General Grant tree, which is located in the Kings Canyon National Park, in Fresno County, California, and which was dedicated by the Federal Government in 1926 as the Nation’s Christmas Tree, is hereby declared to be a national shrine in memory of the men and women of the Armed Forces who have served and fought and died to keep this Nation free and to preserve the spiritual, human, and civil rights which are the essence of our American heritage. The Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, shall make appropriate provision for the perpetual care and maintenance of such shrine.