Mountain History

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A Short History of the San Jacinto Mountains (continued)

Government Agencies

The single most crucial event to shape Idyllwild’s future occurred in 1897, when President Grover Cleveland, during his last week in office, created by proclamation the San Jacinto Forest Reserve. Since 1871, essentially half the mountain range had belonged to the Southern Pacific Railroad as part of its Congressional land grant for building the southern transcontinental line. Under the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, Cleveland’s proclamation required all as yet unsold railroad land in the new reserve to revert to the federal government. While most of what is now Idyllwild had already been marketed and remained in private hands, the surrounding terrain became public property. After creation of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and several subsequent reorganizations, the San Jacintos in 1925 became part of the San Bernardino National Forest.

By the turn of the century there was growing recognition that the San Jacinto high country contains Southern California’s prime mountain wilderness. But preservation of such landscapes was the business of the National Park Service. The Forest Service, in contrast, was created for “conservative” exploitation of the lands under its jurisdiction, to sustain productive watersheds and timber harvests. Bureaucratic competition was inevitable. As early as 1907, Idyllwild’s Walter Lindley stimulated a movement to create a

aOriginal USFS fire lookout tower on Tahquitz Peak.

national park or monument, a proposal roundly rejected by USFS. The State of California then complicated matters with a proposal from Riverside County leaders to create a State Park wilderness in the high country. Moving defensively, USFS itself in 1929 set aside much of high country above Idyllwild as wilderness, but the momentum for a state park was too great. After much complex negotiation and land-swapping, Mt. San Jacinto State Park was dedicated in 1937. To this day, despite the threat posed by the Palm Springs Tramway, the high country remains wilderness, protected cooperatively by state and federal governments. And Idyllwild’s character as an isolated mountain village remains intact, helped immensely by its being landlocked in the midst of this public domain.

Continued