The History of the Generals Highway in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
The main priority for the military administration at Sequoia National Park in the late 19th century was creating access trails and roads to the Big Trees. Under the command of Charles Young, the Buffalo Soldiers constructed the highways in the park. By the early 20th century, the park began to look at the condition of these roadways and the impact the park had on tourism. In addition to fixing and constructing better thoroughfares, a new idea to increase visitation influenced the future of park highways.
The Colony Mill Road first opened Sequoia National Park to the public in 1903. Started by the Kaweah Colony, this wagon road wound up the North Fork of the Kaweah River, ending at Colony Mill near Giant Forest. By the late 19th century, this and other park roads were messy, uncomfortable, and all-around treacherous.
In 1905, Sequoia National Park began to work on constructing better roads. An agreement with the Mount Whitney Power Company gave the electrical company the right to develop hydroelectric power. In return, they would build a wagon road - called the Middle Fork Road. By 1913, roads extended to Potwisha Camp, Hospital Rock, Buckeye Flat, Moro Creek Corrals, and between Giant Forest and Wolverton Creek . With an increase of improved roads and the advent of the automobile, park visitation improved.
Humans have inhabited the area for thousands of years. The first Native Americans in the area were Paiute peoples, who moved into the region from their ancestral home east of Mono Lake. The Paiute Nation people used deer and other small animals for food, as well as acorns. They created trade routes that extended down the eastern slope of the Sierra into the Owens Valley.
Kings Canyon had been known to white settlers since the mid-19th century, but it was not unti John Muir first visited in 1873 that the canyon began receiving attention. Muir was delighted at the canyon's similarity to Yosemite Valley, as it reinforced his theory regarding the origin of both valleys, which, though competing with Josiah Whitney's then-accepted theory that the spectacular mountain valleys were formed by earthquake action, Muir's theory later proved correct: that both valleys were carved by massive glaciers during the last Ice Age.
Then United State Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes fought to create the Kings Canyon National Park. He hired Ansel Adams to photograph and document this among other parks, in great part leading to the passage of the bill in March 1940. The bill combined the General Grant Grove with the backcountry beyond Zumwalt Meadow.
Kings Canyon's future was in doubt for nearly fifty years. Some wanted to build a dam at the western end of the valley, while others wanted to preserve it as a park. The debate was settled in 1965, when the valley, along with Tehipite Valley, was added to the park.