Yosemite National Park’s most popular attraction finally reopened to the public June 14. The historic Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias home to more than 500 mature giant sequoias had been closed since 2015 to undertake a landmark project to protect the grove and re-establish the area’s natural serenity.

The $40 million renovation began in July 2015 to replace the grove’s paved trails with natural surfaces and to relocate parking lots and visitor services to improve access to the famous 209-foot-tall Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree. The National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy donors jointly funded the project.

"As the largest protection, restoration and improvement project in park history, this milestone reflects the passion so many people have to care for Yosemite so that future generations can experience majestic places like Mariposa Grove," said Michael Reynolds, Yosemite National Park superintendent.

"This grove," added Reynolds, "sowed the seeds of the national park idea in the 1800s and because of this incredible project it will remain one of the world’s most significant natural and cultural resources."

The grove and Yosemite Valley were protected in 1864 as part of the Yosemite Grant Act, the nation’s first legislation focused on preserving public lands.

At a new arrival area, where shuttle busses will drop off visitors, officials marked the grove reopening with a ribbon cutting and tribal blessing. Speakers highlighted the grove’s historical significance, the importance of preserving natural places and the effectiveness of the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy partnership in accomplishing exceptional work in the park.

Instead of parking amid the grove, a visit today begins at the new Welcome Plaza near the park’s South Entrance, where a cross section of a fallen giant sequoia that lived for more than 800 years reminds visitors of the ancient place they are about to explore. From the plaza, visitors will take a free, two-mile shuttle bus ride to the Grove Arrival Area where habitat grows in what was once a parking area.

The grove’s trails are now made of natural surfaces instead of pavement, and wooden boardwalks hover over sensitive wetland to protect habitat and sequoia roots. Rattlesnake Creek is flowing again after culverts blocking waterflows were replaced by one of the elevated boardwalks. Another new trail invites people of all abilities to experience the iconic Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.

"There is wetland or vegetation that was once pavement, but it’s impossible to know by looking now what was there before," said Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean. "It is a remarkable transformation."