Celebrating Earth Day and More with Yosemite National Park
Down to EarthApril 2016
Story by Jordan Venema
“This year, we’re making it extra special,” begins Scott Gediman, Yosemite National Park public affairs officer and ranger. “But as we say, every day is Earth Day,” he chuckles.
As though to prove the point, Yosemite National Park will celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 23, the day after our planet’s recognized celebration.
The Saturday schedule offers potential guests the opportunity to enjoy a full day in the park, which they will probably appreciate since Yosemite is packing this year’s event with plenty of other reasons to celebrate.
For starters, August 25 marks the National Park Service’s centennial, “so that’s a theme that’s running throughout the year, but for Earth Day we’ll make a centennial theme,” says Gediman. “We’re also celebrating our National Junior Ranger Day, which is real exciting,” he continues. They’ll also recognize the 150th anniversary of Yosemite’s first ranger, Galen Clark, appointed in 1866.
And to top it all off, April 16-24 is National Park Week, which means free admission to Yosemite.
Festivities begin at 10 am right outside the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and will include activities and giveaways, with booths set up by groups including REI, the American Alpine Club, and state and national parks.
At the center of all the booths and swag, Yosemite will set up a stage which will cycle through educational presentations and children’s songs led by a park ranger. The stage will also host a swearing-in ceremony for new Junior Rangers, an event that is particularly close to Gediman.
“It sounds corny, but I became a Junior Ranger here in the late ‘60s, and it inspired me to become a park ranger. I actually still have my patch,” says Gediman. “We’ll be swearing in as many Junior Rangers as we can that day.”
Though the Junior Ranger title is mostly ceremonial, the patch can have lasting impact on children who will be encouraged to become good stewards of the planet. What better day than Earth Day to bring a child up to go through the requisite worksheet?
“They have to pick up a piece of litter, or ask a ranger a question, or find some landmarks, and when it’s done, they get sworn in as Junior Rangers and they take a pledge and get a badge,” explains Gediman.
So yes, there are some tasks a Junior Ranger must perform, “but I’m pretty lenient about it,” Gediman chuckles. He’s excited the patch is being given to kids not only down the mountain from Yosemite, but from around the world. “Just a couple weeks ago, I swore in a couple of kids from Finland and Sweden.”
The 150th anniversary celebration of Galen Clark will begin at 2 pm on stage. Rangers will be wearing vintage uniforms, “and we’ve got a retired state park ranger who does living history commemorating Galen Clark.”
Clark, California’s first ranger, moved to Yosemite after the Gold Rush. “He was told he only had a year or two to live, then he came up to the mountains and regained his health and opened up a park’s station,” says Gediman. Clark lies buried just a few hundred yards from the visitors center, a site he picked himself, and where he planted giant sequoias that now stand sentry to his grave.
With so much planned for the Earth Day celebration, it’s easy to forget that the biggest draw to Yosemite is the park itself. “With the great winter we’re having, there’s peak waterfalls,” says Gediman. “From the visitors center, you can walk right over to lower Yosemite Falls, with a wonderful one-mile loop around it.”
Come for the activities and giveaways, or come for the history, or come to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger, or just come for the hikes – remember, it’s free. But whatever you end up doing this Earth Day, get outside and appreciate the natural beauty of this planet.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
9035 Village Drive, Yosemite • (209) 372-4386
Yosemite Earth Day April 23
(search for “Earth Day”)