Assateague Island
Administrative History
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The sources used appear in the footnotes. They include memorandums and other documents from official files; congressional bills, hearings, and reports; newspaper and magazine articles; and personal interviews. Rather than list them again in the traditional bibiliographic format, it seemed more useful in this "model" park history to outline here how the sources were pursued.

I might logically have begun at the park. I learned at the outset from park staff that all of their files were still there in good order, along with extensive newspaper clippings and a collection of personal papers from an early seashore supporter. But I was more than three hours away in Washington, with little travel money. I would necessarily visit Assateague, but only after I had exhausted the Washington sources so as not to spend time in travel status perusing what could be obtained at home.

I began with the comprehensive files in the NPS Office of Legislation, the congressional hearings and reports in the main Interior Library, and a legislative history compilation in the Interior Law Library. These sources revealed most of the events and processes leading to the seashore's authorization in 1965 and its 1976 amendatory legislation. Records of committee hearings and reports on legislation almost always provide indispensable background on the forces bringing a park into being and shaping its development. This was certainly the case with Assateague.

I moved next to the Office of Park Planning and Environmental Quality where the Washington Office's copies of park planning documents and related correspondence are kept. Because general management planning (formerly master planning) normally follows and is dependent upon a park's legislation, this proved a logical course. The fact that Assateague's General Management Plan was being completed just as my research got underway was a factor favoring that area's selection for the project: the GMP settled longstanding issues of development and use, allowing the history to end on a note of resolution rather than indecision. (A year earlier I would have been well advised to pick another park; a history of Assateague done then would soon have become obsolete.)

At the start I had ordered, through the Records Branch, the Washington Office back files on Assateague stored at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland (a branch of the National Archives that holds retired NPS central files postdating 1949). The only subject category in which Assateague records were separately filed there was land acquisition, those records deserving such special treatment for their great volume. Now obtaining the land files—half a dozen boxes full—I plowed through them, trying to avoid becoming enmeshed in detail while looking for the key correspondence on policy, procedure, major cases, overall progress, and the like. (Because the Assateague correspondence on other matters was mixed in with that of all other parks, it would have been grossly inefficient to have searched through the general subject files for the occasional memorandum on Assateague when I knew that the park had copies of virtually everything.)

A trip to Philadelphia for other purposes next afforded an opportunity to explore what the Mid—Atlantic Regional Office had to offer. My stay was short, and although some of the files proved useful, I gained more there from personal contacts with those who had been involved in planning and resources management at Assateague.

Having mined the veins of information in the central offices, I was now ready for the mother lode. My first three—day trip to Assateague was just long enough to get started. After the necessary introductions and a brief orientation to the area, I was led to some 30 shelved cartons of older records, arranged by subject code, and newspaper clippings filed by date. Over the remaining days (and nights) I selected the categories on which I would concentrate, went through as many boxes as time would permit, then obtained permission to borrow the remaining selected boxes for research back home.

On this trip I discovered that Assateague already had an administrative history, a very commendable local product done by Park Ranger Gordon Noreau in 1972 and revised two years later. Pertinent management documents and summaries had been appended to update it, and its current value was evident from its regular reference use. My initial concern that what I was doing might be redundant was soon overcome; the scope, perspective, and currency of my history would make it supplement more than repeat Noreau's. His proved another valuable source, however, particularly for its coverage of early park developments and events.

After combing the borrowed records in Washington, I returned with them to Assateague for my second and final three—day stay. There I completed the documentary research to the present in the current park files. Only then did I begin interviewing people associated with the seashore's past in any systematic manner. Without having learned as much as possible before-hand, I would have been at a disadvantage in knowing what questions to ask, and my ignorance of the subject matter would have done little to elicit candid and complete responses.

Assisted in arrangements by the park staff, I spoke to several long time seashore employees and knowledgeable local residents in my remaining time there. Upon returning to Washington I called those in the park vicinity I had been unable to visit, then started contacting the other names on my list. I succeeded in reaching each former seashore superintendent and certain other key personnel who had moved on. I wanted to give the other two agencies on Assateague their day in court, so I spoke to the former superintendent of Assateague State Park, Dick Rohm, and the former director of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, John Gottschalk. Theirs were among the most valuable comments I obtained. My research would have been incomplete without giving George Hartzog his say, and he was most helpful. Since there was nothing to lose by shooting for the top, I called Stewart Udall; he was equally interested and cooperative.

About two months had elapsed, with a month to go before my deadline. It was time to revise my preliminary outline to accommodate the accumulated data, reorder my pile of note cards, and begin writing.


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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003