By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Yosemite National Park on Wednesday announced its largest expansion in seven decades with the donation by a conservancy group of a large meadow surrounded by trees that will be home to dozens of endangered species.
Ackerson Meadow at the western edge of the current park was purchased from a private couple earlier this year by the Trust for Public Land for $2.3 million and donated to the National Park Service, a Yosemite spokeswoman said.
The gift of 400 acres (161.87 hectares) of land marks the largest expansion of Yosemite, which was first protected in 1864 and encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles (3,107.99 sq km) in central California, since 1949.
"It's a big open meadow surrounded by forest land. We're very excited. This pristine meadow is going to provide habitat for a number of protected species," park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said. Among them are two endangered species of owls.
Among the major contributors to the purchase were the nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy, the National Park Trust and American Rivers.
According to the park, the land is especially important because it consists of a meadow. While just three percent of Yosemite National Park is meadows, they are home to some one-third of the plant species found there.
Frank Dean, president of the Yosemite Conservancy, said in a statement that Ackerson Meadow had been included in the original boundary plans for the park, which was inspired by the advocacy of Scottish-American naturalist John Muir.
"Donating the largest addition since 1949 to one of the world's most famous parks is a great way to celebrate the 100th birthday of our National Park Service -- and honor John Muir's original vision for the park," said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land.
Yosemite, considered one of the crown jewels of America's national park system, regularly ranks among the top U.S. tourist attractions. The park saw a record 4.3 million visitors in 2015.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)