John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Three:

Background to the park proposal

Establishing a national monument differs considerably from the administrative procedure used to create additions to Oregon's state park system. Like other types of federal reservations, national monuments are generally subject to the legislative process. National significance and strong political support are requirements for establishing monuments, as are cordial intergovernmental relations when land transfers are needed for sites in state park status.

Although John C. Merriam frequently touted the upper John Day Basin as a "mecca" for visitors interested in appreciating change through geologic time, he maintained that the area did not "fully reach the status of a National Park or National Monument." [1] This is despite Merriam continually promoting the area as having qualities which appeared to satisfy national park standards he formulated while serving as chair of the National Park Service's Committee on the Study of Educational Problems. [2] Doubts about the NPS, rather than any concerning the John Day reservation's significance, made him take this position. In 1943, when Merriam described the importance of a close relationship between his parkway proposal and activities of the Committee on Educational Problems in Oregon Parks (CEPOP), he stated that the NPS concerned itself more with technical problems of administration and protection instead of education and research. [3] Use and administration of the John Day reservations, in his view, should be driven by an educational focus--one which CEPOP could foster and direct in conjunction with the state parks organization. [4]

In any event, no statutory definition exists for the "national park" or "national monument" designations. The latter has been characterized as areas not sufficiently outstanding to justify national park status, yet possessing values which merit protection and control by the federal government. [5] National monuments in the United States have a great variety of scenic, geological, biological, archeological, and historical features--so much so that generalizations are difficult. As one writer put it,

"A national monument is a piece of land containing from one to one million acres, either flat or rough, timbered or bare... But the most clearly outs tan ding character of the national monument is its complete inconsistency. [6]

National monuments can be proclaimed by the President under authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906, or are legislated by Congress. Although many of the early monuments became part of the National Park System as the result of presidential proclamations, most of those established since 1950 have been through legislation. [7] ]When the legislative process is used to establish a monument (or any other unit of the National Park System, for that matter), it might seem obvious that support for the area must outweigh opposition or political inertia. For this to occur, however, the proposed area should demonstrate some degree of national significance while its proponents convince Congress to act through a sponsor, who is usually a member of the home state's congressional delegation. [8]

More than anything else, a failed attempt to establish a national seashore on the Oregon Coast hampered supporters of a national monument in the upper John Day Basin. Born from a 1959 NPS study, an "Oregon Dunes National Seashore" originally involved 32,000 acres--much of which had to be obtained from private owners and the U.S. Forest Service. [9] Once it evoked local opposition, Congressional supporters rewrote the authorizing legislation several times. By 1965 the seashore proposal had new boundaries, something which resulted from a report prepared by the NPS in 1963. [10] Several state parks became part of the new proposal, which Oregon congressman Robert Duncan introduced as HR 7524 in 1966. [11] Despite the bill passing the House, it died on the Senate calendar because one of Oregon's senators, Wayne Morse, threatened to stymie debate with a filibuster. [12] Consequently, the Department of the Interior dropped this proposal from its legislative requests because the Oregon delegation collectively failed to support it. [13)]

The Oregon Dunes episode might have had little relevance to a park campaign in the upper John Day Basin had there not been a controversy over whether state parks could be transferred to the NPS. According to state parks superintendent David G. Talbot, the seashore proposal failed in Congress once the state demanded compensation for its land. [14] This position reportedly infuriated NPS director George Hartzog, but the state maintained that it had not been thoroughly informed about the bill's provisions. [15] As a result, the NPS believed the state to have no interest in transferring any of its parks. [16] An opinion dated October 14, 1966, by Oregon's attorney general reinforced this perception. It advised that without additional authority from the state legislature, the highway commission possessed no authority to convey these parks unless they could be declared surplus and no longer needed for public use. [17]

Congressman Al Ullman stayed out of the Dunes controversy, but he asked the NPS to study several areas in eastern Oregon for their feasibility as National Park System units after assuming his congressional seat in 1957. [18] While the state and Hudspeth experienced difficulties over their co-ownership of Painted Hills State Park, J.P. Steiwer contacted Ullman about that area's potential as a national monument. Ullman took this request seriously because of Steiwer's status as mayor of Fossil and his having served as a state representative. The request stemmed from Steiwer having visited Craters of the Moon National Monument in the 1950s, while on his way to Yellowstone National Park. Since the scenic and geological features at Craters of the Moon encourage travelers to stopover on their way to a major destination such as Yellowstone, he reasoned that Painted Hills lay in a somewhat analogous position. [19]

Ullman wrote to Hartzog in June 1965, requesting an informal evaluation of Painted Hills or a combination of related sites for administration by the NPS as a national monument. [20] The letter went to the agency's Western Regional Office in San Francisco, which in turn referred it to a field office located in Portland. Despite an acknowledgment that a field investigation should be made before commenting, Dan Burroughs of the Portland office submitted an evaluation based on secondary source material to the regional director in October. [21] Burroughs concluded that a thirteen acre park did not warrant national monument status in itself, but emphasized that other localities in the upper John Day Basin possessed outstanding scenic and scientific importance. He thereby recommended an intensive field examination be conducted before making any definite conclusions about a national monument. [22]

The field examination, however, had to be deferred for at least one year while NPS study teams met commitments elsewhere. [23] In the mean time, University of Oregon paleontologist J. Arnold Shotwell made the NPS regional office aware of the Sheep Rock area's eligibility as a National Natural Landmark. Regional archeologist Paul J.F. Schumacher evaluated a 2,000 acre area, mostly located within Thomas Condon-John Day Fossil Beds State Park, based on a brief field investigation made in 1963. [24] Schumacher recommended the site for designation, as did the Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board, so that formal application could follow from Governor Mark Hatfield on June 15, 1966. [25] Once the NPS conveyed landmark status six days later, it established that at least part of the upper basin possessed national significance. [26]

If nothing else, the landmark designation served to encourage supporters of a national monument in Grant County. Interest there had been expressed several years earlier by county parks commissioner C.L. "Buck" Smith, a friend of Ullman's. Smith, who owned an automobile dealership in John Day, experienced little difficulty in getting his daughter Lura and son-in-law Gordon Glass involved with a national monument proposal. [27] Glass hired a photographer to take pictures of the Sheep Rock area as early as 1963, but his first official connection with this proposal came once Grant County organized a planning commission in 1965. [28]

Under the leadership of county agent Bill Farrell, this commission undertook studies of Grant County's economic potential. [29] As a member of the commission's recreation committee, Glass wanted to better quantify the economic potential of tourism. This might make the benefits of national monument designation, as one part of a strategy for the upper basin, more apparent. Glass subsequently wrote the historical and geological sections of a report on Grant County's recreation potential in 1966. [30]

After Ullman obtained the Grant County report in early 1967, he compared a potential national monument in the upper John Day Basin with Nez Perce National Historical Park in Idaho. [31] This stemmed from one of the report's recommendations which called for core areas to be preserved in a national monument, in concert with wayside geological markers over the wider area to tie the park concept together. [32] Ullman continued to have the backing of Wheeler County officials to pursue an evaluation of the upper basin, so he requested the NPS to supply a study team on April 7, 1967. [33]

Next> Prelude to a master plan

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002