The National Parks and Emergency Conservation Work
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It was not until 1916, forty-four years after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, that the National Park Service was created in the Department of the Interior as the definite Federal agency to maintain the areas "dedicated and set apart for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

Until 1915 the various national parks and national monuments had received limited supervision as part of the miscellaneous work handled in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. In that year Secretary Franklin K. Lane, realizing the specialized nature of national park work and the desirability of unifying the parks into one definite system, induced Stephen T. Mather, an old college friend and a keen lover of the mountains and the outdoors generally, to accept appointment as his assistant for the purpose of devoting his energies entirely to park matters. After the passage of the act creating the National Park Service, Mr. Mather was appointed its first Director. Horace M. Albright, appointed as Assistant Director of the Service at that time, in 1929 succeeded Mr. Mather as Director. Upon Mr. Albright's resignation in 1933, Arno B. Cammerer, then Associate Director, became Director of the National Park Service.

The general administrative work of the National Park Service is carried on in the Washington office. That is the place where all policy matters are decided; detailed estimates prepared of appropriations needed for park work and accurate cost records kept of every cent of Government money expended; appointments to all field positions considered; broad naturalist and historical programs worked out for field use; and general public relations work maintained, including the preparation and distribution of park literature and visual educational matters of various types.

Glacier Point Lookout, Yosemite National Park.


Each of the national parks is in charge of a local superintendent, who resides in the park and is responsible to the headquarters office in Washington for all activities within the area under his control. In several of the smaller parks the superintendent has only four or five assistants. In the larger ones, such as the Yellowstone and the Yosemite, a large force is necessary and includes protective, clerical, educational, and engineering assistants.

The protective work is done by the ranger force, headed by a chief ranger, who reports to the superintendent. The permanent ranger force is the all-year nucleus around which is built up the larger summer temporary force to handle the increased work of the tourist season. The permanent ranger positions are filled by civil-service appointment. Ranger duties include checking travel, directing traffic, enforcing the rules and regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior for the protection of the park, giving information to tourists, fire fighting, improvement of trails, repair of telephone lines, protection of wild animals, fish planting, supervision of campgrounds, and numerous other duties.

The more important of the national monuments are in charge of local superintendents or custodians. The group of southwestern national monuments is in charge of a superintendent, through whom the custodians report.


As has already been indicated, the national parks and national monuments offer exceptional opportunities for informal education. The education afforded in these areas is not the kind that is acquired in schools or from textbooks. Rather, the city dweller in the parks has an opportunity to acquire, under the leadership of ranger naturalists, information about trees and plants that all skilled woodsmen know almost as second nature. The person untrained in the sciences, seeing a great work of nature such as the Grand Canyon, takes a brief course in popular geology when he inquires of the naturalist as to just how the great gorge came into existence, how long it was in the making, and why the banded colorings. So with the Yellowstone geyser fields. "What makes the geysers geyze?" is a popular question; "Do the geysers freeze in winter?" is another, and so on. In the Yosemite, seeing great Half Dome towering nearly 5,000 feet above the valley, the natural impulse is to ask what happened to the other half; and here again is a brief lesson in geology.

Entrance to Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park.

In the areas of historic significance, the main stress in the educational work is laid upon the particular story—colonial, military, or whatever it may be—that the reservation was established to tell.

In other words, the educational service in the national parks and monuments is a definite outgrowth of the demands of visitors for information as to the why and wherefore of the interesting and unusual things encountered along the beaten track or out-of-the-way trail.

This demand for knowledge is met primarily in two ways—through the ranger naturalist and historian service and through the museums. The ranger naturalists and historians are men and women trained in the natural sciences, history, or archeology and in public contacts. They conduct parties out on the park trails on short or long trips and give informal talks at the camp fires in the public auto camps, in the lodge and hotel lobbies, and in the museums.

The museums in the wilderness national parks and monuments are designed primarily to interest the average visitor in finding out for himself just what the particular unit has to offer. It has been said that the museum exhibits are in reality only the index to the park or monument, which is the real index of nature.

In the historical areas the museums contain exhibits which portray the story of the area, as well as relics and artifacts connected with the human events which transpired in them, and which by their importance in the pageant of our national history entitle the areas to the status of historic shrine.

So in our prehistoric monuments. There the museum exhibits include implements in use a thousand years ago in grinding corn, and in other ordinary routine of life—a sandal or other bit of clothing or personal adornment; shreds of baskets; pottery of many designs and colors.

An Indian Dancer at Yosemite.

We call visiting one of these prehistoric exhibits an educational proceeding or a study in archeology, but really it is just getting a little first hand information as to how our neighbors of many centuries ago lived. And we find ourselves quite as curious about them as we are about our next-door neighbors.


Congress in establishing the National Park Service outlined its function to be the preservation of the national parks, monuments, and other reservations assigned to its jurisdiction in their natural condition for the use and enjoyment of American citizens of all times.

Carrying out this mandate involves the serious responsibility of con serving the finest natural scenery the country has to offer and of guarding nearly 15,000,000 acres of territory, at the same time making the parks and monuments accessible to the millions of people who visit them annually.

Measuring the Trails.

To keep the natural beauty of mountain, forest, lake, and waterfall unspoiled and yet within easy access of such a multitude of visitors is an interesting though often difficult problem. Quoting the landscape architects, upon whom devolves the responsibility for this phase of park activities, the reverse of the famous principle used by the ostrich generally is followed, for roads, trails, and buildings all should provide a maximum of scenic view, at the same time being as inconspicuous as possible themselves.

The landscape process begins with selecting locations which do not tear up the landscape or obtrude into important views. This is followed by a study of the design, which endeavors to use native materials and other architectural features that will harmonize the structure with its surroundings. The last phase of the problem is the placing of any plant materials necessary to cure unavoidable damage that may result from the construction.

The range of national park landscape problems is highly interesting and diversified. It runs the gamut from dog kennels in Alaska to colonial plantations in Virginia, from adobe houses with cactus gardens in the Southwest to subarctic roadside plantings in Maine, and from lakeside hotels in Montana to hot-springs developments in Arkansas.

The actual construction work, of course, devolves upon the engineers, and all studies of the physical problems of each park are made by the landscape men, the engineers, and the individual park superintendents, and in special cases of historical interest by the historians. When a general scheme of development has been arrived at, a so-called "master plan" is prepared by the landscape architects on which is charted an outline of all future construction work. Using this master plan as a guide, designs are then worked out for the individual items, such as roads, buildings, parking areas, bridges, trails, and numerous miscellaneous projects.

The supplying of adequate living accommodations for visitors is an important phase of national park development, especially in those parks handling from 100,000 to nearly half a million visitors annually. The National Park Service, in addition to providing roads and trails and the necessary buildings for carrying on the administration of the parks, also provides free public automobile camps. The main camps in the larger parks have all the modern improvements, with water, electric lighting, sanitary conveniences, and open fireplaces. Wherever available without injury to the forests, firewood is furnished visitors without charge.

Not so many years ago most motorists making use of these camp grounds carried their own equipment, pitched their own tents, and cooked their own meals. But the gradual change in the habits of motorists has brought about the introduction and expansion of housekeeping cabins and cafeteria service in many larger camps. Experience has proved that the only practicable method of providing accommodations other than the automobile camps is through private capital, operating under Government franchise and close supervision. Hotels, lodges, transportation facilities, and various types of store service all are operated under this plan, as are the housekeeping cabins and cafeterias in the public camps. Interesting private capital in this development has not always been an easy matter, since the majority of the parks have a short tourist season and in addition are a considerable distance from commercial markets, with resultant increase in cost of commodity purchases. The National Park Service takes into consideration all these factors and also the needs of the public in recommending approval of rates by the Secretary of the Interior. It is an interesting fact that, despite the short operating season and the difficulties of transporting supplies and equipment, rates in the national park hotels and lodges compare favorably with those charged for similar accommodations at popular resorts not under Government control.

Reforestation Among the Big Trees.


One of the most fascinating features of the national parks is the opportunity they afford visitors to meet face to face wild animals such as their pioneer forefathers encountered in moving westward from the Atlantic seaboard. Not so many years ago these animals roamed the entire United States in vast herds. Today, outside of zoological parks, there are comparatively few places where they may be viewed, and of these places the national parks take first rank.

The park visitors want animal stories, and more animal stories. One that always engenders keen interest is that of the Yellowstone buffalo. Some thirty-odd years ago this animal, which once roamed the plains of the West in countless numbers, had almost disappeared. A few animals were taken into the Yellowstone, formerly a natural range for these great beasts. These animals and the little remnant of the original Yellowstone herds were given protection, with the result that the new herd increased with great rapidity. Several years ago it reached a thousand head, the greatest number that the range in the vicinity of the park buffalo ranch can properly accommodate. Every year since then it has been necessary to give away or otherwise dispose of several hundred surplus animals to keep the buffalo from taking over the administration of the whole park.

While telling the story of the buffalo and of the traits and habits of the various other park animals, the ranger naturalists always explain that the national parks and monuments are absolute game sanctuaries. No hunting is permitted in any of them. It is further explained that this absolute ban on the killing of animals within the parks and monuments actually is for the benefit of the hunters, for the wildlife thrives and multiplies under the protection afforded in these breeding places, and eventually there is an overflow from the parks to the adjoining territory.

In relating the story of the restocking of the Yellowstone with buffalo, and also with antelope—another plains animal that had almost disappeared—emphasis is laid on the fact that no nonnative species of animal, or plant for that matter is ever introduced into a national park with the possible exception of game fish of other localities which occasionally are placed in otherwise barren waters in some park lake.

Bears are a delight to the tourists, except to those who insist upon becoming too familiar with them and get nipped or scratched in reproof. It is often said by the park people that the quality which makes humans so enjoy the antics of the bears is that bruin is so very human in many of his reactions. In a number of the parks bear-feeding grounds provide an interesting and amusing spectacle. To these places are carted the left-overs from the lodge and hotel kitchens. The bears become accustomed to the feeding time and congregate each evening for a hand-out of "combination salad." Both grizzlies and black bears come to these feeding stations.

Many of the bears, sometimes singly and sometimes a mother bear with cubs, loiter along the roads to beg candy from the passing motorists. For a time feeding these bears was considered a harmless pastime, so long as the food was thrown and not fed directly from the hand. Even this practice now is strictly forbidden by park authorities, since the bears are unable to understand when the available supply of sweets is exhausted and are apt to go after more, with unpleasant results to the visitors.

Glimpses of deer, elk, moose, antelope, and mountain sheep add much to the pleasure of a park trip. There are many smaller animals which provide much amusement, notably the little "picket pins", or ground squirrels, which sit up and beg for food and often climb into a visitor's lap when tactfully coaxed. For the bird lover also the parks are a paradise.

A bird conservation problem that now faces the National Park Service involves the trumpeter swan. This bird, practically extinct a few years ago, has recently found the Yellowstone region a favorable nesting place, and the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Bureau of Biological Survey, is doing everything possible to protect the breeding places and the young birds until they become strong enough to fight their own battles. During the last 5 years a definite increase in the number of these swans has been noted.

Although hunting is strictly banned in the national parks, fishing is permitted under regulations that insure against depletion of the fish supply. No fishing licenses are required by the Federal Government, but in the national monuments and in several of the national parks where the State laws prevail it is necessary to obtain a State fishing license. The parks in which such licenses must be obtained are Yosemite, Sequoia, Lassen Volcanic, General Grant, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Wind Cave, Zion, Acadia, and Great Smoky Mountains.

View of Mount Rainier.

The waters of several of the parks contain excellent native game fish, while others at the time of park establishment were practically barren. To insure good fishing, many millions of eyed eggs and fingerlings are planted each year in park lakes and streams through the cooperation of Federal and State fish hatcheries. Every effort is made to improve fishing conditions and afford good sport for the thousands of anglers who seek recreation in the parks.

The best fishing, of course, is in the lakes and streams away from the main motor roads. Even along the highways, however, the fish are plentiful, but they also are educated. Constant fishing by amateur fishermen accustom the fish to most forms of artificial bait, so that they become wary—a fact which adds to the enjoyment of the skilled fisherman. Even the Grand Canyon, in Arizona's semidesert, is becoming of keen interest to anglers through the stocking of Bright Angel and several other creeks. The large fish hatchery operated at Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park and at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park are a great attraction to visitors. Special guides take parties through at stated hours, and observation platforms and aquaria are so arranged that the entire operation may be easily studied.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park.

The few regulations laid down by the Park Service concerning fishing are all designed to aid fishing conditions. The number and size of fish that may be taken in any one day are limited, according to the supply in a particular body of water. Sometimes, to protect newly planted young fish or promote the come-back of an over-fished lake or stream, fishing in particular waters is temporarily suspended.

For the convenience of fishermen who visit the various national parks, the stores in these reservations carry in stock and have on sale each season a large quantity of appropriate fishing tackle and other necessary equipment.

A Ranger Near Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park.

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Last Updated: 16-Feb-2010