Assateague Island
Administrative History
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The assignment was to prepare an administrative history of a National Park System area as a model for future efforts by other historians (professional and amateur) in and outside the National Park Service. To overcome any notion that such histories were principally for historical parks, I wanted to address a predominantly natural or recreational area. Because time and travel money were limited, I needed a park within driving reach of Washington whose records were reasonably accessible. Assateague Island National Seashore appeared to fill the bill.

Having selected Assateague on such pragmatic grounds, I quickly discovered that this relatively recent and apparently unremarkable unit of the System has a background of controversy, complexity, and change equaled by few other national parklands of its vintage. The seashore is administered by no less than three agencies of government, and while I would necessarily focus on National Park Service management, I could hardly ignore roles and relationships of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Park Service. Authorization of the seashore followed a classic conservation—versus—development battle, which was settled only by compromises of lasting administrative consequence. After Congress first charted Assateague's course of development, changing public and political sentiment and new awareness of barrier island dynamics caused a radical shift of legislative direction in little more than a decade. The Federal appropriation of more than 4,000 island tracts from private landowners——many of whom had other preferences—and the protracted struggle between certain environmentalist and off—road vehicle forces would make long and colorful stories by themselves.

This complexity forced me to be selective rather than comprehensive. My perspective on Assateague was that of an outsider, previously unfamiliar with the topic, trying to determine and focus on what was most significant and consequential: what had brought the national seashore into being and what had most occupied those NPS personnel at the park, central offices, and service centers charged with its land acquisition, planning, development, and general management. My primary intended audience was Service employees who now have and will one day assume such responsibilities. But I also wanted to interest a broader public, including academic historians who might find the Park Service and its work sufficiently stimulating to undertake similar projects on other parks.

All this meant that my product would not be the administrative history of Assateague but an administrative history. Someone writing from a park staff perspective might produce something more descriptive of day—to—day park operations, which might be more immediately useful to the superintendent and division chiefs but perhaps less interesting to others. Someone outside the Service doing a graduate thesis would likely focus even less on such matters and relate Assateague more to the "big picture" of conservation and public policy.

Because of these different and equally valid approaches to park history—and also because there exist more than a few other good administrative histories of NPS areas—I offer this one as a "model" with some trepidation. If it deserves to be so regarded, it is because I have tried to focus on the park story without wandering afield into the early history of the region, the geology of the island, or other topics better treated elsewhere; because I have organized most of the story topically, for ease of locating particular subject matter without having to scan the entire paper; because I have done a fairly thorough job of extracting and incorporating pertinent data from official files and reports, legislative documents, published articles, and persons most familiar with the park's past; because I have not refrained from including anything of relevance that might make the Service appear less than perfect; and because I have tried to write in a manner to encourage rather than discourage reading.

I could not have accomplished this project without much help. At Assateague Superintendent Mike Finley and his staff, especially including Larry Points, Lynn Pennewill, Anne Parker, Mel Olsen, Audrey Massey, and Chick Fagan, went out of their way to share personal knowledge, provide access to files and other data, and give me an essential feel for the place. In the Mid—Atlantic Regional Office I was aided most by Fred Eubanks, Chet Harris, John Karish, and Cliff Tobias. Particularly helpful in the Washington Office were Art Eck, Don Humphrey, and Jeanita Pressley.

The three former superintendents of Assateague, Bert Roberts, Tom Norris, and Dick Tousley, were generous with their time and information in telephone interviews. Other ex—Assateaguers who shared their recollections in this way were Harvey Wickware, Gordon Noreau, and Earl Estes. Former Director George Hartzog, expressing enthusiasm for the administrative history program, kindly gave me his insight into the seashore's origins and early years.

In contacts outside the Service (past and present), I profited much from the personal observations of John S. Gottschalk, former director of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife; C. Richard Robin, former superintendent of Assateague State Park; and Stewart L. Udall, who was instrumental in acquiring the seashore as Secretary of the Interior. Marvin J. Abernethy and William V. Krewatch offered the perspectives of former island property owners, Robert Phillips remembered recreating on Assateague in the 1920s and 30s, and Bill Shockley spoke eloquently for his Assateague Mobile Sportfishermen's Association.

Special thanks must go to my wife and editor, Gay Mackintosh, who repaired numerous infelicities of expression; to Janie McCullough, who efficiently typed the final product; and to Ed Bearss, that model for all Service historians, who conceived the project and whose formidable personal example and relentless interest insured its completion within the allotted time.

Barry Mackintosh
June 30, 1982

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003