How Have National Parks Changed Over Time?

Viewing photographs of different eras in the national parks can give many insights on ecosystem processes, as well as simply change over time. The photographs associated with panoramic lookout photographs provide a window on the past, and an opportunity to compare to the present with changes to land forms and land cover.


Lester Moe on right taking photograph with Osborne camera. Man on left takes notes.

Lester Moe, right, uses the Osborne camera to capture a a panoramic photograph at Davis Lookout in northwest Montana. Image courtesy of Moe family.

Who Was Lester Moe?

Born on January 21, 1910 in Portland, Oregon, Lester Maynard Moe joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at age 23 as an enrollee recruited for the panoramic photograph project that began on June 11, 1933. He worked for the US Forest Service taking photographs in 1933 and 1934. In 1934, “Mr. Moe had terminated his services to resume college…” (Arnst, 1985, p. 12) and apparently joined the National Park Service as a Junior Forester that same year. At the completion of the National Park Service project, it was noted that he worked on it from 1934 to 1938.

The June 1938 Park Service Bulletin highlighted the completion of the project:

Chief Forester Coffman announces completion of a 4-year project for obtaining panoramic photographs from the 200 existing and proposed forest fire lookouts throughout the entire Federal Park System.

The photographic work, done by Junior Forester Moe, entailed many hardships not only in packing the necessary equipment weighing upwards of 100 pounds to lookout points, but also in climbing trees, poles, temporary towers, or roofs of lookouts with the equipment and facing the extreme winds that occur so frequently at high elevations.

Park Service Bulletin, June 1938, pg. 6

The next notation regarding Mr. Moe is as a ranger in Yosemite National Park from June 1940 to November 1942 when he went into the Navy Air Service. After the war, he returned to Yosemite as a ranger and in 1946 joined the park’s engineer department. He worked the 1949 summer season in Mount Rainier National Park but by November of that year was back in the Engineer Department of Yosemite. (Bingaman, 1961). According to the California Death Index, Lester Moe died in Merced, California on August 27, 1990.

Material for this section credited to Albert Arnst's article We Climbed the Highest Mountains and John W. Bingaman's work Guardians of the Yosemite.