Administrative History
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In the 1980s and early 1990s, the threats to Navajo National Monument varied in character and intensity. There were different kinds of potentially adverse effects, the majority of which threatened the resources of the monument. Increases in visitation and the impact of visitors on the ruins, pot-hunting and unauthorized use of the detached areas, and vandalism formed one primary category. Park staff felt the pressure to maintain the preservation portion of the mandate of the Park Service. Outside threats to the park by entities beyond the control of the Park Service and not generally subject to its entreaties were another kind of threat. Resource development by private firms on the Navajo Reservation had potential to cause a range of direct and indirect changes to the monument. In addition, such uses affected the potential of the monument to attract visitors.

Another threat to the future of the monument was internal. Following on the heels of a decade of limited funding, growing restlessness among Park Service people, and the general tightening of federal spending as a result of the budget deficit and the savings and loan scandals of the late 1980s, the staff at Navajo National Monument found themselves with insufficient resources to meet the various demands on the park. The result was a climate in which confidence in the level of care the agency could offer declined. The inability to serve its constituency as well as it had in the past left the Park Service weakened, with declining morale, as many saw the new conditions negating the gains the agency made in the 1980s.

The concept of outside threats to the park system was a phenomenon of the post-Second World War era. Prior to the war, the majority of park areas were far from centers of population, and while places like Carlsbad Caverns were surrounded by ticky-tacky businesses, most parks were immune to such intrusion. Western parks faced a greater threat from inholdings, private lands located within national park areas, than from development outside park boundaries. [1]

But the development of the West in the postwar era and the growth in its population led to much greater pressure on park resources. During the first decade following the war, Americans flocked to visit their national parks in numbers far greater than before. The response of the Congress and the Park Service, MISSION 66, was designed to facilitate capital development to meet the needs of visitors, but it did little to address another consequence of the increase: the growing dependence of local economies on park visitors. Well into the 1970s, the agency took a narrow view of its responsibilities, regarding events within park boundaries as its primary and many times exclusive province.

By the 1970s, changing perceptions of American society contributed to more aggressive vigilance on the part of the Park Service. Beginning in the 1960s, the conservation movement in the United States took a more holistic approach to preservation. Its concerns stretched beyond the protection of the park system into the beautification of ordinary landscapes. By the middle of the 1970s, this ethos had spread. Many within the agency took a broader view of the demands of management. For those in resource management, this translated into a concern for lands beyond the borders of park areas. [2]

The conditions at many national park areas merited concern. Local economies depended on revenue from park visitors, and as economic impact studies showed, outside dollars in a community were spent an average of seven times before they left it. Concessions within park areas were limited or controlled, but as the economic climate in some urban areas and much of the rural West forced people to consider new economic alternatives, local communities and individuals looked to the NPS and its well-oiled visitation machine as an economic panacea. The result was the proliferation of privately owned stores, restaurants, and motels near and in many cases adjacent to park areas. Many of these did not meet Park Service standards. Exploitive in nature and characterized by a brand of hucksterism that dated from an earlier, more naive time, they detracted from the experience of visitors. Nor could most travelers discern between what the agency sanctioned and what it did not. Eyesores and negative influences on visitor experience, out-of-park facilities also became a public relations problem.

The threat of industrial development loomed even larger. The end of the Second World War ignited industrial development in the West; the famed Colorado River Storage Project that led to the successful effort to stop the Echo Park dam was only the beginning of much broader and more comprehensive development. The construction of interstate highways during the Eisenhower administration helped facilitate growth, as did the rapid increase in population throughout the region and a greatly increased emphasis on development of its resources. Many park managers watched with dismay as industrial development and intensive natural resource use began to occur in the vicinity of park areas. [3]

The threat appeared greatest from two separate but interrelated activities, the production of fossil fuels and mineral extraction and development. In the Four Corners region, this was a particularly strong threat, for after the Second World War, development of the area increased exponentially. The growing interest of the Navajo Nation in development contributed to the fears of the Park Service. By the 1970s, mineral extraction activity in the Southwest was greater than any other region of the country with important national park areas. [4]

The Park Service and its support organizations were aware of the problem. By the middle of the 1970s, the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) and other groups that supported the park system expressed concern for the lands surrounding park areas. In 1972, the National Parks for the Future study group pointed out the need for protection from outside threats. In 1976, NPS Director Gary E. Everhardt declared that the most severe threats the system faced were external and they were at their most serious in the desert Southwest, where "existing electric generating plants powered by local coal supplies have already created haze and smog in the once clear desert air." At the end of the decade, the NPCA published its adjacent lands study, in which many park superintendents remarked that they felt that they lacked the level of authority to deal with threats beyond their boundaries. The NPCA called for remedies such as an end to federal funding of projects with adverse impacts on adjacent park areas. [5]

By 1980, this position had become an integral part of agency policy. Park Service documents such as the State of the Parks 1980 report to Congress focused on external threats such as commercial enterprises and industrial development outside park boundaries with the potential to affect park units. According to the study, more than fifty percent of threats to park areas came from outside park boundaries. The Park Service began to develop ways to identify and counteract the broadening range of potential threats. The issue became prominent on the agenda of the agency, and individual park units stepped up responses to new threats. [6]

Although it faced many of the same threats as other park areas, Navajo National Monument remained an anomaly. Unlike many park areas, it lacked the sheer dimensions to insulate itself from nearby development. As a series of disconnected islands in the heart of the western reservation, Navajo faced three times the potential threat of contiguous parks. In addition, its de facto dependence on the administration of the reservation areas that surrounded it also complicated any Park Service response to threats to its resources.

The problems at the monument were compounded by the lack of continuity between the three sections of the monument. In reality, Navajo National Monument was an inholding on the Navajo reservation, precariously dependent on the decisions that affected the land around it. Grazing, mineral development, use of water, and other economic uses of land around all had a significant impact on the resources of the monument. But the Park Service could not simply oppose any growth outside park boundaries. The people of the region were poor by modern standards, and economic development meant that an increase in the local standard of living was likely. To wantonly oppose development meant alienating the community that surrounded the monument. With the widespread feeling of interdependence that characterized park-Navajo relations in the vicinity of the monument, a sense that the monument impeded the local economy could be disastrous.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006