Seventy-five years is relatively young for a national park around these parts. Sequoia National Park and Yosemite were both designated national parks in 1890. Later this year, they will mark 125-year anniversaries.
Kings Canyon remained unprotected for 50 more years because of its beautiful and pristine water — the Kings River.
“Powerful hydroelectric interests from Los Angeles were battling with irrigation and agricultural interests from the San Joaquin Valley for water storage and diversion licenses in the Kings River watershed,” wrote Woody Smeck, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks superintendent, on the eve of the park’s birthday on March 4. “Early assessments by the Federal Power Commission showed the potential for 19 dams and reservoirs on the South Fork of the Kings River.”
If cooler heads had not prevailed, Cedar Grove and Tehipite Valley could have been flooded like Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite. While industrialists lobbied for position, an outcry from preservationists swayed public opinion.
“A compromise negotiated by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, led to the development of water storage in the lower Kings River, thereby preserving the pristine upper watershed as a national park,” Smeck said.
The newly created national park consisted of 454,000 acres of unspoiled Sierra Nevada wilderness. It also absorbed lands designated as General Grant National Park (est. 1890) and changed that former name.
A presidential proclamation expanded the new park’s boundaries to include Redwood Canyon and its magnificent giant sequoias.
Today, Kings Canyon National Park features a scenic highway, campgrounds, a couple of the largest trees in the world, and hundreds of miles of hiking and horseback-riding trails. There are two dozen peaks higher than 13,000 feet and one of the deepest canyons in the U.S.
Sections of the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails traverse Kings Canyon National Park’s, including Evolution Valley and Sixty Lakes Basin.
The Kings Canyon Highway, closed in winter, will open Friday, April 24, to Cedar Grove, weather permitting.