PARKS AND EDUCATION:
THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS
Dwight T. Pitcaithley
The objectives were clear and bold and expansive.
To educate the public in respect to the nature
and quality of the national parks,
To further the view of the national parks as
classrooms and museums of nature,
To use existing publicity and educational systems
so as to produce a wide result,
To combine in one interest the sympathy and activity
of schools, colleges and citizen organizations in all parts of
To study the history and science of each national
park and collect data for future use.
Drafted in 1918 by the National Parks Educational
Committee to promote the educational opportunities in national
parks, these objectives are among the earliest expressions of
the National Park Service's
founding fathers on the pedagogical aspects of park management.
The National Parks Educational Committee was the creation of Robert
Sterling Yard, a promoter of parks and of the need for a National
Park Service. Yard had been hired, in 1915, by Stephen T. Mather
who, in turn, had been recruited by Secretary of the Interior
Franklin K. Lane to unify the administration of national parks
in a new agency to be called the National Park Service. Yard,
a writer, editor, and publisher, and then Sunday editor of the
New York Herald, had become friends with Mather during
the 1890s when they were both newspaper reporters in New York.
Yard's job was to promote
the national parks and to raise the profile of the nascent National
Following the creation of the agency in August of
1916, Yard became the chief of the Educational Division. (When
Congress approved the Service's
first budget in the spring of 1917, there were not sufficient
funds for Yard's position,
so Mather paid his salary out of his own pocket.) Realizing that
a budget for the expansive educational goals he envisioned for
the National Park Service would not be forthcoming in the near
term, Yard reached outside the Service to create the National
Parks Educational Committee. He received support for his ideas
from Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution;
John Huston Finley, New York Commissioner of Education; and conservationist
George Bird Grinnell, among others.
Yard and Grinnell had been instrumental in lobbying for
the creation of the National Park Service. As they met in Wolcott's
Smithsonian office to draft the Committee's
objectives, the men were no doubt aware that only the month before
Secretary Lane had instructed Mather on the educational implications
of parks. "The educational,
as well as the recreational, use of the national parks should
be encouraged in every practicable way. University and high-school
classes will find special facilities for their vacation period
studies. Museums containing specimens of wild flowers, shrubs,
and trees and mounted animals, birds, and fish native to the parks,
and other exhibits of the character, will be established as authorized."
The Carver Museum at Tuskegee Institute NHS
Realizing that the obligations of building parks
and park service constituencies would leave little time for developing
the educational agenda established by Yard, and that Congress,
possibly mindful of an expanding world war one, was unlikely to
provide sufficient funds for a viable educational program, Mather
endorsed the creation of a separate organization which could operate
outside government restrictions in support of National Park Service
goals. "His [Robert
Sterling Yard's] study
of the parks from an educational point of view,"
Mather wrote, "...and
his recently developed plans for organizing the cooperation of
schools and universities of the country should be continued under
freer and more permanent auspices than the government offers."As
a result, Yard and Wolcott created the National Parks Association
[now the National Parks and Conservation Association] to promote,
in part, the interpretation of the scientific resources of the
parks, encourage school groups to be brought to the parks, provide
educational materials to schools, and to encourage the general
development and distribution of information regarding the national
The affinity between national parks and the educational
imperative, however, was thoroughly recognized by the founders
of the National Park Service from the Secretary of the Interior,
to the Director, to the park superintendents. In his first annual
report to the Secretary, Deputy Director Horace Albright reflected
(Director Mather being ill at the time) on the meaning of the
enabling legislation. After quoting a section of the 1916 law
creating the National Park Service, Albright observed, "What
a brilliant statement of constructive conservation policy this
is...What benefits for the people of our time and for posterity
in the direction of safeguarding health and providing recreational
facilities are promised. What splendid recognition is given to
the economic and educational value of our wonderful playgrounds."
Moreover, a resolution developed by park superintendents in 1922
argued that "the educational
and economic value of the national parks to the nation, is restricted
by insufficient development."
The statement, designed to support the construction of badly needed
roads and visitor facilities while recognizing the potential problems
of over-development, placed education, along with recreation,
at the center of the Service's purpose. "Roads and trails," it asserted,
"should be improved and extended, ample accommodations should be provided for visitors,
and other improvements carried out, so that the parks may better
fulfill their mission of healthful recreation and education to
a larger number of people."
Later on, the resolution elaborated on this theme; "...the
mission of the national parks is to provide, not cheap amusement,
but healthful recreation and to supplement the work of schools
by opening the doors of Nature's
laboratory, to awaken an interest in natural science as an adjunct
to the commercial and industrial work of the world."
Three years later, Secretary of the Interior, Hubert
Work, reiterating Secretary Lane's
1918 direction to the Service, emphasized (even more than Lane)
the centrality of education in the Service's
mission. In his letter to Mather, Secretary Work listed three
"broad, accepted principles"
upon which park management should be based. One declared that
parks and monuments must be preserved "untouched
by inroads of modern civilization";
a second that "the national
interest must take precedence in all decisions affecting public
or private enterprise in the parks";
and a third announced that parks were set aside "for
the use, education, health and pleasure of all the people."
Secretary Work then repeated, almost verbatim, the paragraph from
Secretary Lane's letter
quoted above. Clearly, the Department of the Interior understood
from the outset that education was to be a primary activity of
this new agency. "In
short," Work concluded,
"national parks unlike
national forests, are not properties in a commercial sense, but
natural preserves for the rest, recreation and education of the
That same year, 1925, the National Park Service,
almost a decade old and with a more secure budget, formally established
an Education Division headed by Ansel F. Hall. At that time, the
Service only recognized three divisions; the other two being the
Engineering Division and the Landscape Architecture Division.
Ansel Hall had earlier served as information specialist and park
naturalist at Yosemite National Park. In 1923, Director Mather
recognized the good work of Hall and designated him chief naturalist
with a charge of extending "the
field of educational development to other parks."
Wanting to highlight the educational work of Hall even further,
Mather gained the Secretary of the Interior's
approval to create the Educational Division to be located at the
University of California, Berkeley where several National Park
Service offices were located. The division remained at Berkeley
for five years, when it was superceded by the Branch of Research
and Education created by then Director Horace Albright and moved
to Washington, D.C.
By 1928 the educational activities of the National
Park Service were many and varied and of such growing importance
to the visiting public that the Secretary of the Interior, wanting
to stimulate further growth, appointed a committee to study the
educational program and report "on
the educational possibilities of the national parks."
This ad hoc committee consisting of Dr. John C. Merriam,
Dr. Hermon C. Bumpus, Dr. Harold Bryant, Dr. Vernon Kellogg, and
Dr. Frank R. Oaster, issued a preliminary report the next year
that included a statement of principles, recommendations for the
organization of educational work in the parks as well as recommendations
for further research on "problems
involved in the educational program of national parks."
"In view of the fact,"
the report continued, "that
the purpose of national parks is to be found in their inspirational
and educational values, there should be an advisory body of five
to seven of the ablest men conversant with national parks, appointed
by the Secretary of the Interior...to advise the Director of National
Parks on matters pertinent to educational policy and developments
in national parks."
The following year, Secretary Ray Lyman Wilbur acted on that recommendation
and created a National Park Service Educational Advisory Board.
Within the year, the joint efforts of the ad hoc committee
and the advisory board resulted in a report that, among other
recommendations, suggested that a "position
of educational director of the National Park Service should be
filled by a man of the best scientific and educational qualifications."
Director Albright acknowledged the importance of education within
the National Park Service by heeding this advise and creating
the Branch of Research and Education and appointing zoologist
Dr. Harold C. Bryant as assistant director in charge of all educational
As Albright later recalled, the education program
in Bryant's care was
based on four policies: 1) "simple,
understandable interpretation of the major features of each park
to the public by means of fields trips, lectures, exhibits, and
literature;" 2) emphasis
on leading the visitor to study the real thing itself rather than
depending on second-hand information;"
3) "utilization of highly-trained
personnel with field experience, able to interpret to the public
the laws of nature as exemplified in all the parks, and able to
develop concepts of the laws of life, useful to all;"
and 4) "and a research
program that would furnish a continuous supply of dependable facts
suitable for use in connection with the educational program."
When Horace Albright became director in 1929 he
envisioned an expanded National Park Service, one that not only
managed the parks and monuments then under its administration,
but also national monuments and battlefields then managed by the
U.S. Forest Service and the Department of War. Two executive orders
during the summer of 1933 achieved that transfer adding to the
National Park System twelve natural areas and forty-four historic
ones. With the
stroke of a pen, Franklin Roosevelt transformed the National Park
Service from an agency that managed mostly natural areas on the
west to a national system of parks including both natural and
historic areas. As Albright and the president were discussing
the nature of this reorganization, Albright was also working on
an article for The Scientific Monthly titled "Research
in the National Parks."
Following a recitation of the history of the national park movement
and the early development of the National Park Service, Albright
observed that once the parks were protected and provided with
minimal visitor amenities, the Service turned to the "aesthetic,
or 'higher educational' side of the parks." "Why geysers 'gyze,'"
he wrote, "is perhaps
the question asked most in the Yellowstone."
To answer that and similar questions the Service developed educational
lectures, field trips, and museums all supported by a program
is necessary not only to the preparation of interesting material
to serve as a basis of the naturalist and historical service,
but it also is fundamental to the actual protection of the
natural features of the parks....Aside from the educational
value of the national parks and national monuments as research
laboratories has been recognized by a number of schools, including
important universities, and many field classes are held therein,
particularly in ecology, geology, and archeology....There
is no doubt but that this use of the parks as field schools
will increase in the future, side by side with the growth
in tourist travel. Thus the parks have an important destiny
in the future of our national life, from the standpoints of
educational, spiritual and recreational values."
Rangers and students collecting water samples
If there were any doubt about what Congress thought
about the Service's
educational program, it was put to rest by the Historic Sites
Act of 1935. While the act placed the National Park Service squarely
in the middle of the maturing historic preservation movement in
the country, it also charged the Service with developing an education
program for its newly acquired cultural parks. The Secretary of
the Interior shall develop, it declared, "an
educational program and service for the purpose of making available
to the public facts and information pertaining to American historic
and archeological sites, buildings, properties of national significance."
(The act also formalized the National Park System Advisory Board
to advise the Secretary on the administration of the parks. This
board which over the years contained many prominent educators,
scientists, historians, writers, and anthropologists--writer Wallace
Stegner and publisher Alfred Knopf among the most notable--continues
to advise the Secretary and the Director on matters relating to
management and educational programs in the parks.)
To mark the twentieth anniversary of the National
Park Service, the Department of the Interior published Research
and Education in the National Parks. Divided into two parts,
"The Educational Program
in the National Parks,"
and "History of Educational
Movement," this publication
was clearly designed to extol the accomplishments of the Service's
educational program. It itemized the various ways the Service
delivered educational information to the public from auto caravans,
nature and historic trails, exhibits, lectures and camp-fire talks,
to museums, libraries, college and university field classes, and
the Yosemite School of Field Natural History, all built upon a
foundation of solid research. "The
intention of the Park Service in launching a research program
is not duplicate work done elsewhere nor to trespass upon fields
amply covered by other Government bureaus, but solely to gather
scientific information necessary to the development of the museum,
educational, and wild-life administration programs of the national
More important, perhaps, was the recognition that
"parks as classrooms"
had a long and illustrious tradition in the national parks. Citing
the work of Professor Rollin Salisbury of the Department of Geology,
University Chicago and his 1899 field trips into what would become
Glacier National Park and the pioneering educational work of John
Muir and Enos Mills, the booklet provided an extensive recounting
of the growth and expansion of the Service's
educational program. Research and Education in the National
Parks placed special emphasis on the Secretary of the Interior's
interest in the educational responsibilities of the Service and
the National Park Service Educational Advisory Board and its achievements
Within two decades following its establishment,
the National Park Service, with the assistance of Congress and
the Secretary of the Interior, had developed a refined philosophy
of education that involved the presentation of scientific and
cultural information through a variety of methods and venues,
professional relationships with major universities and research
institutions, and the conviction that learning in the parks must
be based on ongoing and comprehensive research in the sciences
and humanities. The early direction of Franklin K. Lane, Stephen
T. Mather, and Robert Sterling Yard and those that succeeded them,
clearly and firmly anchored education at the center of the management
of the national parks.
of the Board of Trustees, National Parks Association,
National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Papers, 1918-1919.
 John C. Miles,
Guardians of the Parks: A History of the National Parks and
Conservation Association (Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis, 1995),
 Guardians of
the Parks, pp. 16-18.
Franklin K. Lane to Stephen T. Mather, May 13, 1918, as quoted
in Lary M. Dilsaver, ed.,
National Park System: The Critical Documents, (Lanham, Maryland:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1994), pp. 48-52.
in Guardians of the Parks, p. 19.
of the Parks, p. 25.
Park Service, Report of the Director of the National Park
Service to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year
Ended June 30, 1917 (Washington: Government Printing Office,
1917), p. 2
Resolution on Overdevelopment: Prepared at the National Park
Service Conference Nov. 13-17, 1922; Yosemite Park, Calif. With
(December 1, 1922) as quoted in The Critical Documents,
Hubert Work to Stephen T. Mather, March 11, 1925, as quoted
in The Critical Documents, pp. 62-65.
History: Organizational Structures of the National Park Service,
1917 to 1985. Np, (1985), p. 37.
Harold C. Bryant and Wallace W. Atwood, Jr.,
and Education in the National Parks (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, 1936), pp. 48-49.
Research and Education in the National Parks, p. 50.
Research and Education in the National Parks, p. 51.
Research and Education in the National Parks, p. 54.
Horace M. Albright, The Birth of the National Park Service:
The Founding Years, 1913-33 (Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers,
1985), p. 270.
National Parks: Shaping the System,
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991), p.
24. See also Albright, The Birth of the National Park Service,
pp. 226, 285-297.
Horace M. Albright, "Research
in the National Parks,"
The Scientific Monthly, 36 (1933), pp. 483-501; as quoted
in The Critical Documents, pp. 122-131.
"An Act to Provide
for the Preservation of Historic American Sites, Buildings,
Objects, and Antiquities of National Significance, and for Other
Purposes," (49 Stat.
666), August 21, 1935, as quoted in The Critical Documents,
Research and Education in the National Parks, p. 40.
Research and Education in the National Parks, pp. 51-54.