The national park system in the United States: An overview with a survey of selected government documents and archival materials

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<ul><li><p>Government Publications Review, Vol. IA, pp. 145-158,198O Printed in the USA. All rights reserved. </p><p>0196-335X/80/020145-14$02.00/0 Copyright 0 1980 Pergamon Press Ltd </p><p>THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM IN THE UNITED STATES: AN OVERVIEW WITH A SURVEY OF SELECTED GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS </p><p>AND ARCHIVAL MATERIALS </p><p>JOHN R. JAMESON Dept. of History, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99163 </p><p>(Received 24 May 1979; accepted for publication 17 June 1979) </p><p>Abstract-The idea of national parks originated in the United States over a century ago. This article examines the evolution of the unique concept and sug- gests selected research aids, government documents, and archival holdings useful for further study of the national park system. </p><p>The concept of national parks for the benefit and enjoyment of the people had its birth at Yellowstone in Montana and Wyoming Territories just over a century ago. Today there are ap- proximately 1200 parks or equivalent reserves in 100 countries. In the United States alone, one can visit over 300 sites in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. [l] These include natural, historic, archeological, recreational, and cultural parks ranging in size from less than 1 acre to over 3000 square miles, from a few structures on a city block to the Appalachian Trail winding along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Georgia. </p><p>An abundance of published and manuscript materials can be found on the national park system in the United States and the volume increases annually. The bulk of the printed items are govern- ment documents and publications of commercial and academic presses tailored for popular con- sumption-picture books, guides, reminiscences, and narratives of individual parks-yet few scholarly monographs are among these. And most of what little scholarship has been produced neglects the extensive holdings in the National Archives and Records Centers. A case in point is John Ise, Our National Park Policy: A Critical History, still the basic scholarly work on the park system although it relies almost exclusively on published government documents. [2] The neglect of manuscript collections stems partly from the vast quantity of the materials and, in the past, an absence of adequate guides to the archives. Now that good finding aids are available there should be more monographs published from research in the National Archives as well as other government and private collections. </p><p>The potential for original research and publications on the park system is not restricted to the mature scholar either. The large number of published primary and secondary materials and archival holdings affords excellent resources for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students for term papers, honors and masters theses, and doctoral dissertations. These sources are readily accessible at depository libraries for government documents, on microfilm, at the libraries of the parks themselves, and at the National Archives and Records Centers in Washington, D.C. and the regional offices. </p><p>145 </p></li><li><p>146 JOHN R. JAMESON </p><p>Because the published and manuscript materials are considerable, this essay is intended pri- marily as a general overview and guide to point the way to reference aids, selected publications, and archival holdings and to suggest fields of inquiry for teachers, students, scholars, and any other persons interested in the history of a unique idea, the national park system of the United States. [ 31 </p><p>THE NATIONAL PARR SYSTEM: AN OVERVIEW [ 41 </p><p>Established in 1872, Yellowstone remained the only national park for almost two decades, and the fact it survived these early years at all was remarkable indeed. [5] Most members of Congress did not feel the federal government should be responsible for raising and protecting wildlife and supporting pleasuring grounds for the public. Because of problems of access, there were not the expected number of tourists to make the park self-sustaining and Congress consequently reduced appropriations well below levels required for basic maintenance and development by the Depart- ment of the Interior. Insufficient and poorly trained staff and the appointment of political hacks as superintendents compounded the difficulties. Under these conditions the park wildlife faced extermination from the guns and traps of poachers and vandals who threatened to destroy or carry off the natural assets. Even on rare occasions when lawbreakers were caught, the superintendent and his assistants lacked authority to make arrests or to levy fines. </p><p>Finally in 1886 the Department of War received authorization to send troops into Yellowstone to restore order and to protect the parks resources. They would remain for over 30 years provid- ing much needed reinforcement for the civilian staff. Army units were also deployed in 1890 when Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant National Parks were added to the system. [6] </p><p>The establishment in 1906 of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to preserve archeological ruins broadened the scope of the park system. The passage of the Antiquities Act that same year gave the President authority to set aside by executive decree public lands whose scientific and historic values were endangered. [7] </p><p>Three departments administered the national park system during the formative years-War, Agriculture, and Interior. One of the results of nationwide Progressive reform to bring efficiency to government was the creation in 1916 of the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior. The new agency received an appropriation of $19,500 for salaries in the Washington office and Congress approved $500,000 for the operation of seventeen national parks and twenty- two national monuments, or an average of approximately $12,000 for each site, a paltry sum indeed. [ 81 </p><p>Steven T. Mather was the first director of the Park Service, a position he held with distinction for 14 years. His strong personality and leadership propelled the young agency from infancy into a competent maturity during the 1920s. One of Mathers strengths was his ability to enlist outstand- ing individuals, and the Park Service became known by friend and foe alike as a capable organiza- tion comprised of well trained and dedicated men and women. The last of Mathers boys, Arthur Demaray, retired as director of the Park Service in 1951, 35 years after the establishment of the agency. [9] </p><p>The Emergency Conservation Work programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelts New Deal- the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, and the Works Progress Administration-played a major role in the revitalization of the Park Service and the country during the depression years. From 1933 to 1940 the NPS congressional appropriation only rose from $10.8 million to $13.5 million, yet during this same time the agencys ECW programs received $218 million. The number of Park Service employees grew from 2027 in 1933 to 13,900 in 1937, the peak year for emergency conservation work. New Deal programs also involved the </p></li><li><p>The National Park System in the United States 147 </p><p>NPS in helping local and state governments plan for their park and recreational needs. [lo] President Roosevelt himself was an enthusiastic park booster. With his family he visited Hawaii </p><p>and Glacier National Parks in 1934 and returned full of praise for the entire system. In a nation- wide broadcast he suggested that the slogan, 1934-A National Park Year be changed to Every Year a National Park Year and urged Americans to visit their parks since they were not for the rich alone. Roosevelt continued to frequent the parks throughout the decade and the subsequent publicity, coupled with the promotional efforts by the NPS, helped increase attendance almost five-fold from 3.4 million in 1933 to 16.7 million in 1940. [ 1 l] </p><p>The park system expanded in other ways as well. In 1930 the establishment of the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia served as the catalyst for Director Horace M. Albrights historic preservation program. A provision of the Historic Sites and Buildings Act of 1935 furnished the Park Service with WPA funds to direct a survey of important examples of the builders art erected in the United States. This, along with another mandate of the 1935 act-the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments-laid the groundwork for the active participation of the federal government in historic preservation following World War II. [12] </p><p>By mid-year 1940 the national park system consisted of 161 areas including 26 national parks, 82 national monuments, 4 national historical parks, 11 national military parks, 7 national battle- fields, 5 national historic sites, 1 national recreational area, 9 national memorials, 12 national cemeteries, 3 national parkways, and the national capital parks in the District of Columbia-an increase of 98 units since Roosevelts inauguration 7 years before. [ 131 </p><p>The entry of the United States into World War II drastically curtailed the development of the national park system, a situation that would last through the Cold War years. Conrad Wirth, director of the Park Service from 1951 to 1964, wrote in a National Geographic article about the degenerating conditions in the parks since the early 1940s: Facilities were out of date and run down, roads were in dangerous condition, trails were washed out, employee morale was at a low ebb, and even scenic beauty was deteriorating. [ 141 </p><p>The post-war American public had literally loved to death its national park system. It could adequately accommodate 21 million people but faced an annual onslaught of 55 million. The Service budget had remained inadequate to meet the increased usage largely because of the Cold War mentality and accelerating military expenditures. In response to the crisis, the Park Service in 19.55 presented to President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress a long-range package plan-Mission 66. It stated that present and future needs of the national parks would cost $786.5 million over a 10 year period. Mission 66 would conclude in 1966, the golden anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. Both the President and Congress responded favorably to the idea. The program for physical improvements, restoration of park resources, increased staffs for protec- tion and interpretation, and additional lands to round out the system would eventually cost the American taxpayer over a billion dollars. [ 151 </p><p>After 1966 the escalating Southeast Asian conflict temporarily put a stop to the ample federal funds the Park Service had received during Mission 66. By 1972 the Service needed $1.8 billion for physical improvements but only received $40 million while funds for visitor-use projects had declined $30 million annually since 1966. Fortunately 1972 also marked the centennial of the national park system. As its second century began, Congress responded with a generosity surpassing even the Mission 66 programs. The Department of the Interior has already spent almost one billion dollars on land acquisition with funds from federal offshore oil leases and another $725 million is earmarked through 1984 for the renovation of recreational facilities in urban areas. [ 161 </p><p>In November 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed the National Park and Recreation Act. In addition to the aforementioned $725 million, it also established 15 new units in the national park </p></li><li><p>148 JOHN R. JAMESON </p><p>system and approved further land acquisition and improvements at other existing sites, designated almost two million acres in eight national parks as wilderness areas, and placed eight new additions in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. As if that were not enough, the following month when the 95th Congress failed to act, the President invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906 and withdrew 110 million acres in Alaska to protect the states fragile ecosystem. His action pleased environmental- ists but it angered many Alaskans who felt federal controls and restrictions had gone too far. [ 171 </p><p>The history of the park system has been frought with controversy from its inception to the present, as the Alaskan incident illustrates. A recent news story recounted alleged heavy-handed tactics used by Park Service officials to harass landowners into selling their property for inclusion in national parks at prices, some owners felt, below fair market value. Were the Indians of 1978, remarked one embittered resident near a national park. Except were being kicked off the reservation instead of being moved from one reservation to another. The article concluded that somehow the park service will have to balance the rights of the individual against the public good. [ 181 </p><p>The solution is not an easy one since individual citizens, local, state and federal officials, and Park Service employees themselves disagree as to what constitutes the public good. The Forest Service and the Park Service have fought for decades over which agency was entitled to the countrys timber resources. The creation of a new national park or the expansion of an established one invariably causes friction since either existing or potential forest reserves are involved. The NPS and the Bureau of Reclamation on several occasions have clashed over the placement of dams in or near national parks. [19] And wilderness area proposals for much of the national park acreage have even produced a schism between Park Service officials causing some to agree, albeit covertly, with private citizens that parks should not be locked up for exclusive use by a backpacking minority. [20] Unfortunately, the future should find the controversies multiplying rather than diminishing as an expanding population makes even greater demands on the national park system and the countrys natural resources. </p><p>The Carter Administration has taken several steps to prepare for the mounting crisis facing the parks with varying degrees of success. [21] One of the more notable was the creation of the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service. The new agency houses the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, formerly one of the Park Services most active divisions. The demands made on the NPS while serving as the federal clearing house for historic preservation information and programs, overextended the agencys personnel and resources. [22] The responsibilities assumed by the HCRS should allow the Park Service adequate time to concentrate on its original purpose to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife of the national parks and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner _ . . as will leave them unimpaired for future generations, a full time job indeed. [23] </p><p>GENERAL GUIDES TO GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS </p><p>The researchers investigation should begin with the general guides to government documents available in most major libraries. A recent article by Michael L. Tate in Government Publica...</p></li></ul>

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