Project overview: Fill a gap in Yosemite’s cultural history and interpretive offerings by researching and documenting the contributions of Chinese American laborers to the development of historical infrastructure and other resources in the park, including the construction of the Old Wawona Road (pictured) and Great Sierra Wagon Road (modern Tioga Road).

The backstory: In Yosemite, Chinese immigrants made up most of the workforce that built the Wawona Road — during just 18 weeks, in winter, using only handpicks and shovels. Thanks, in part, to the research of National Park Service Regional Historian Yenyen Chan, Chinese laborers are also known to have helped build the 56-mile Great Sierra Wagon Road (today’s Tioga Road) in the 1880s and Washburn Road, which accessed Mariposa Grove from Wawona. It’s clear Chinese immigrants made significant contributions to the historic infrastructure of Yosemite National Park, but more research is needed to evaluate and document this history.

How your support helps: In 2023, Yosemite’s Research Management and Science staff will survey and inventory construction sites and architectural ruins along Old Wawona and Tioga roads, evaluating the condition of historic retaining walls, roadbeds, culverts, quarries, and more. This work is time-sensitive, as the historic infrastructure at these two sites is vulnerable to damage; one section of the Old Wawona Road was unexpectedly lost to a rockslide in 2020.

The comprehensive site records gathered with the help of this grant will provide the evidence and support for future trail improvement and repair efforts, as well as interpretive opportunities to provide the public with new insight on Chinese American cultural history and involvement in the early years of Yosemite National Park.

Project partner: Yosemite National Park 

Don Faxon

Resource Management and Science, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Contributions by Chinese immigrants within Yosemite are little-known to the public but are believed to be significant…This project will benefit the Chinese-American community, Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Conservancy, and the nation.”