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The following activities will help students to understand some of the issues involved in the use of parks.

Activity 1: Use a Park or Preserve It?
Explain to students that planners of roads serving scenic parks, whether national or state, had to answer a basic question: How could the park provide both a "hands-on" and a "don't touch" experience for visitors? According to the Organic Act that created the National Park Service in 1916, the mission of the Park Service was "to promote and regulate the use of...national parks, monuments, and reservations...to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." States adopted similar criteria, but in most cases there have been conflicts and problems. Even when visitors are careful of the land, their sheer numbers may overwhelm the capacity of trails and campgrounds.

Divide the class into two groups. Group 1 represents those who would restrict the number of visitors allowed into the park in order to conserve the land as it is. Students in this group should consider what their position would be on building a road, for instance. Construction would damage the landscape, but might confine the largest number of visitors to specific areas of the park, protecting other areas against excessive visitation. Group 2 takes the position of those who believe that as Americans who pay taxes to support parks they have the right to use the facilities when and as they choose. Students in this group should consider what they would be willing to do to accommodate unlimited visitation--the cost and impact of constructing campgrounds and other accommodations, insuring safety and security, expanding existing roadways to be used by more cars and recreational vehicles. What would they do to ensure that what people came to see was not destroyed by the very people who came to see it?

Have each group develop and present at least three arguments for their assigned point of view. After both sets of arguments have been presented, ask all students to list the kinds of work that are needed to make a park more accessible and to accommodate visitors, and those that are needed to protect the park's natural resources from overuse or abuse. For example, to make a park more accessible, students should consider road construction and maintenance, operation of hotels and stores, trash collection, security, and police. For concerns about conservation, students might consider security people to enforce regulations and the use of biologists, geologists, and others to study and monitor the well-being of the park's natural resources. In either case, do students think we should count on visitors to protect parks voluntarily, or do we need specific regulations?

Activity 2: Working in a Park
Have students imagine that they are members of the work crew surveying or building Going-to-the-Sun Road (or another road through a favorite park). Using the reading by Frank Kittredge as a model, have them write a letter to a friend (real or imaginary) describing both the work they did on a typical day and the place where they did it. When the letters are completed, have students meet in groups of four and five to read their letters aloud. Have each group vote on which letter from their group should be read to the full class. Ask them to compare what they wrote with Kittredge's description. Debrief the exercise by discussing the problem of using hyperbolic language without becoming trite. Why does ordinary language tend to fail us when we try to describe extraordinary events or landscapes?

Activity 3: Investigating the Local Community
Explain to students that most people driving on Going-to-the-Sun Road are more aware of the scenery than they are of the road. Roads and highways in our own communities are also easy to take for granted. Have the students identify a road that they think is important to their community. Have them do some research on when it was built, why it was needed, who built it, why it is located where it is, how long it took to build, what difficulties complicated its construction, etc. Was there controversy about the road? Were older buildings or neighborhoods destroyed when the road was built? Much of this information may be found in old newspaper archives. Older citizens will probably remember recent road building projects and may be able to talk to students about what life was like before the road was built and how things have changed. Students may also be able to interview someone from the local highway department who can explain the road construction process to them and identify all the problems that have to be solved in building a road. Students may be able to visit a current nearby road-building project to see the type of work being done and how that work compares with the construction of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

After they explore the subject, ask your students to use what they've learned and the information they've gathered to create a chart comparing and contrasting the creation of the local road with the creation of the Going-to-the-Sun road. They should consider the similar or different purposes, environmental concerns, costs, controversies, tools used for planning and construction -- as well as the methods and materials used during those stages -- and organizations that oversaw construction for both roads.

 

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