Herbert Hoover's National Parks

A man poses at an overlook of Grand Canyon in a 1928 photo.
Herbert Hoover at Grand Canyon National Park, 1928

National Archives & Records Administration

Herbert Hoover is not thought of as one of our better presidents, but he made lasting contributions in the national parks he established. During Herbert Hoover's presidency from 1929 to 1933, the land designated for new national parks and monuments increased by 40 percent.

Recreation grounds and natural museums are as necessary to advancing our civilization as are wheat fields and factories. Herbert Hoover

The Presidency & National Parks

National Parks are places of national significance. The President of the United States can establish a national park in two ways. He can sign a bill from Congress establishing a national park, as Ulysses S. Grant did for Yellowstone, the first national park, in 1872, or he can proclaim a national monument under the authority of the Antiquities Act.

The Antiquities Act allows presidents to proclaim national monuments from "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government." Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower as the first national monument in 1906.

Herbert Hoover, Conservationist

Like Theodore Roosevelt, we can call Herbert Hoover a conservationist, which means different things to different people. What did it mean to Herbert Hoover? In a message to Congress in 1930 he wrote, "The people have a vital interest in the conservation of their natural resources; in the prevention of wasteful practices."

During his childhood in West Branch, Hoover developed a fondness for the outdoors: exploring creeks and woods; swimming, fishing, and sledding; and collecting rocks that spurred his interest in geology. While at Stanford University, Hoover conducted geological surveys of the Sierra Nevadas and the Ozarks. As an adult, the outdoors were his escape. He remained an avid fisherman throughout his life.

Hoover's accomplishments as Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s included a new law to limit oil pollution of coastal waters, protection of salmon fisheries in Alaska, standardization of lumber to eliminate waste of forest resources. While Secretary of Commerce, Hoover became president of the National Parks Association in 1924. In accepting, he wrote, "Recreation grounds and natural museums are as necessary to advancing our civilization as are wheat fields and factories."

Despite his obvious fondness for the outdoors and interests in conservation, Herbert Hoover also said things like, "Every drop of water that runs to the sea without yielding its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic waste." Hoover’s conservation philosophy was more about efficient use of natural resources than not exploiting them at all. The construction of Hoover Dam is a good example of his thinking.

Hoover's emphasis on developing national parks for recreation, which he felt would make the leisure time of American workers more productive and healthy, put him at odds with more preservationist nature of the National Parks Association. He resigned as association president in 1925.

President Hoover's Conservation Agenda

What was on President Hoover's conservation agenda and what did he accomplish?

Conservation was not a big part of Hoover's 1928 presidential campaign. He mentioned the subject only twice during campaign speeches. His overall approach as president favored decentralization of western public domain lands to the states, finding solutions to overgrazing, building dams, and developing water resources. Hoover also supported unifying conservation agencies, such as by consolidating national parks and forests, even though the agencies that manage them have very different conservation missions. But Hoover's policies also included expanding the size and number of national parks. Developing national parks (which usually meant road building) was later part of his Depression-fighting toolkit.

Hoover appointed Ray Lyman Wilbur as his secretary of the interior. Wilbur was a friend who shared Hoover’s conservation views. Wilbur and Hoover saw public lands as playing a part in the well-being of Americans. Wilbur was from Boone, Iowa before his family moved to California. He was a university classmate of Hoover’s, a medical doctor, and president of Stanford University. Wilbur worked with Hoover at the US Food Administration during World War One where Wilbur coined the slogan "Food Will Win the War." As secretary, Wilbur oversaw the building Hoover Dam, worked to correct corruption caused by the Teapot Dome Scandal, and reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Hoover and Wilbur retained Horace M. Albright, the dynamic director of the National Park Service. Albright had a good relationship with both men and was aggressive about expanding the national park system.

Parks Opened, Transferred, Developed, & Enlarged

Hoover’s administration increased appropriations for national park operations from $2.2 million in 1929 to $3.7 million in 1932. National parks saw an increase in visitors from 1929-1932, 3.4 to 3.8 million.

The Hoover administration formally opened two national parks established before his election: Grand Teton and Carlsbad Caverns. Hoover also transferred Bandelier in New Mexico from the Department of Agriculture, where it had been administered since proclaimed in 1916.

Hoover, Wilbur, and Albright continued work to create large new national parks in the east that would be established and opened later in the 1930s and 1940s, like Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah, and Everglades.

By proclamation or executive order, President Hoover added to the lands of Aztec Ruins, Bandelier, Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon, Craters of the Moon, Hot Springs, Katmai, Pinnacles, Rocky Mountain, Scotts Bluff, Yellowstone, and Yosemite.

Private contributions and transfers from other public lands increased the areas of national parks and monuments by 40 percent. Money to create new parks, enlarge existing parks, and eliminate inholdings came from state and private donations. For example, the land that became Great Smoky Mountains National Park came half from the states and half Rockefellers, who also contributed to other national park projects.

Arches

Arches National Monument was the first national park President Hoover established, by proclamation on April 12, 1929. In a memo to the president, Secretary Wilbur wrote to Hoover saying that he recommended this place as a national monument for its "gigantic arches, natural bridges, windows, spires, balanced rocks, and other unique wind-worn sandstone formations, the preservation of which is desirable because of their educational and scenic value."

Only two small sections of land comprised the new monument: 2,600 acres known as "Devil's Garden" and 1,600 acres called "Windows." But later presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson) added more land through the Antiquities Act. In 1971, Congress passed and Nixon signed the bill creating Arches National Park.

Isle Royale

In 1930, Horace Albright sent a newsreel on Isle Royale to Wilbur, hoping the secretary would show it to the president at his retreat. We don’t know whether the president saw the newsreel but the next year he signed the law establishing Isle Royale National Park.

Isle Royale is a remote and primitive wilderness archipelago in Lake Superior. Albright had testified that the potential park had "a type of scenery utterly distinct from anything now found in our national park system; its primitiveness, its unusual wildlife and interesting flora, its evidence of possible prehistoric occupation, all combine to make it national park caliber. "

Isle Royale is a scientific wonder, home to 56 years of wolf and moose research– the longest continuous study of any predator-prey relationship in the world. In 1980 became an International Biosphere Reserve.

Sunset Crater

Sunset Crater Volcano is the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. Its eruption 900 years ago made profound changes to landscape, ecosystem, and the way of life of the region’s inhabitants. After the eruption, the area was no longer farmable – ash covered everything and mountain now stood in the middle of their farmland. People moved to and established communities at nearby Walnut Canyon and Wupatki, both also national parks.

But in the 1920s, many films (at that time silent) were being filmed in northern Arizona. A Hollywood production company was making a movie adaption of Zane Grey’s "Avalanche" and proposed using dynamite to blow up large portions of Sunset Crater to film the avalanche scenes. Local protest got the filming moved and pushed Hoover to establish Sunset Crater as a National Monument to protect it from further exploitation.

Revolutionary War Parks

The 150th anniversary of the American Revolution was an occasion to establish parks commemorating the founding of our country.

Colonial National Historical Park commemorates the beginning and end of British rule in America from Jamestown in 1607 to winning independence at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. President Hoover spoke at dedication of Yorktown Battlefield in 1931.

Another Revolutionary War park established by Hoover is Kings Mountain, commemorating the battle fought there on October 7, 1780. It was one of the few major battles of the war fought entirely between Americans: no British troops served here. In the South, many people were divided. When the war started, some fought for independence, others for loyalty to England. Thomas Jefferson called the battle was “the turn of the tide of success.”

Hoover was invited to speak at the 150th anniversary of the battle. His presence accelerated the movement to establish it as a national battlefield (national protection status). 75,000 people attended and heard his speech. A year after his visit, a monument was erected on the site.

Morristown in New Jersey, site of the Continental Army encampment during the winter of 1779 and 1880, the coldest on record. The park preserves the countryside where the army camped but also the mansion where George Washington made his winter headquarters.

Hoover also preserved the place where George Washington slept first, George Washington Birthplace in Virginia.

George Washington’s birthplace burned down in 1779. All that remains is the foundation’s footprint. Numerous organizations were preserving what was there are well as erecting new structures when Hoover made it a national monument. Today, the main feature of the park is the “Memorial House,” a replica of the home where generations of Washingtons established a legacy of public service, leadership, and love of the land. It was under construction when Hoover proclaimed the park but it was finished as intended in 1932 to honor Washington’s 200th birthday.

International Peace Park

In 1932, after approval in the US Congress and Canada’s Parliament, Hoover proclaimed Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a merger of two adjacent Rocky Mountain parks on each side of the U.S.-Canada border.

DOI Press Release: “Its purpose is to commemorate the long-existing relationship of peace and good will existing between the people and the governments of the two countries.”

Joseph M. Dixon, a former Montana congressman instrumental in legislation establishing Glacier National Park remarked: “Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States are one stupendous area, even though that imaginary line does, or did, cut across the middle of Waterton Lake and give it half to one park and half to the other. So what’s all the fuss about, we say—why the surprise? The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, to our western minds, is a natural, logical development.”

Glacier and Waterton national parks are administered by the US and Canada, respectively. They cooperate and share resources for exotic plant control and search and rescue. International cooperation helps manage the shared watershed and wildlife corridor. Twice a week in the summer, rangers from both parks lead a 7 hour, 8.5 mile International Peace Hike across the border from Canada, returning by boat on Waterton Lake.

Camp Rapidan

Aside from his official actions, Herbert Hoover made a personal contribution to a national park. Every president needs a place to escape from the cares and burdens of office. For the Hoovers that place was Camp Rapidan, a rustic fishing camp located one hundred miles from Washington in Virginia's scenic Blue Ridge Mountain range and built with $120,000 of the president's own money. Those who visited the camp saw a very different man from the harried executive whose days were blighted by economic crisis. At Rapidan, Hoover could discard the formal gear of Washington for white flannels and a Panama hat. He pitched horseshoes with Charles Lindbergh and, sitting on a log with a British Prime Minister, made plans for a world disarmament conference to be held in London in 1930.

The Hoovers donated their mountain retreat to become part of the new Shenandoah National Park after he left the White House in 1933.

Scenic Roads & Economic Recovery

Hoover established George Washington Memorial Parkway in 1930 as a recreational driving road dotted with memorials to American history. Roads, and particularly scenic roads, were important to those like Hoover who wanted national parks to serve the country’s growing recreational needs.

During Hoover’s administration the National Park Service also proposed an "Eastern National Park-to-Park Highway." The proposed highway would link some new parks, like Colonial and George Washington Birthplace, with others under development, like Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave. Neither highway materialized but Hoover did begin construction of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, a project that fulfilled part of this vision.

With the onset of the Great Depression, national parks and scenic roads became one of Hoover’s recovery-building tools. He increased national park road and trail construction appropriations as relief measure: from $3 million in 1928 to over $7 million in 1931, and to $7.5 million in 1932 and 1933. But Hoover, attempting to cut budget deficit in half for 1933 and balance the budget by 1934, also made a 28% cut to “conservation of natural resources.” His budgets cut $1.5 million from the national parks and reduced the service’s funding to $2.5 million for the 1934 budget.

Hoover even cancelled announced trip to national parks, though his advisors thought the trip would assure Americans of his confidence the economy. Despite that, Hoover continued to authorize and expand national parks until the last days of his presidency.

Other National Parks & Monuments

Hoover established a number of other superlative places as national parks: Appomattox Court House, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Canyon de Chelly, Death Valley, Fort Necessity, Great Sand Dunes, Saguaro, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and White Sands.

A couple of parks established by Hoover do not exist as separate national parks anymore, like Second Grand Canyon National Monument, which was added to Grand Canyon National Park in 1975. Holy Cross National Monument was abolished as a national park in 1950. Holy Cross was long a well-known natural landmark deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It attracted many pilgrims and tourists in the early 20th century, but remained remote and undeveloped. It is now part of a wilderness area in White River National Forest.

Two parks are in some sources erroneously attributed to the Hoover administration: Badlands National Monument (renamed Badlands National Park in 1978) and Cowpens National Battlefield Site (redesignated Cowpens National Battlefield in 1972). Both were authorized or established on Hoover's inauguration date, March 4, 1929, but by Calvin Coolidge during his final hours in office.

After Herbert Hoover's Presidency

After he left the White House, Hoover continued to enjoy the outdoors and visits to national parks, usually for fishing trips. He continued to influence the protection of national parks, as with Grand Teton and Dinosaur.

Hoover also devoted much time and energy to his legacy and defending his record as president. In 1938, President Hoover and his wife purchased the house where he was born in 1874. His local supporters restored the home and, under the guidance of the president and his family, developed a park around it. The park commemorates Herbert Hoover and his rise from simple beginnings to the presidency of the United States. It became a national park— Herbert Hoover National Historic Site— in 1965, one year after the president's death.

"The Most Priceless Offerings of Nature"

How important are Herbert Hoover’s national parks? In the words of Ray Lyman Wilbur, his secretary of the interior:

“In no other way is the upward trend of our modern civilization so well exemplified as in the establishment, development, and increasing use of our National Parks…

“Where once the best scenery was reserved for the use of those most favored, and for the pleasure of kings and princes, today every American citizen or visitor to our shores may enjoy the most priceless offerings of nature.

While Hoover’s vision for American society didn’t survive the Great Depression, he left a lasting legacy in the places he protected for the benefit and enjoyment of the people: national parks.

List Of National Parks Established By President Herbert Hoover

The National Parks established by the Hoover administration are:

Two parks are in some sources erroneously attributed to the Hoover administration: Badlands National Monument (renamed Badlands National Park in 1978) and Cowpens National Battlefield Site (redesignated Cowpens National Battlefield in 1972). Both were authorized or established on Hoover's inauguration date, March 4, 1929, but by Calvin Coolidge during his final hours in office.

Last updated: October 25, 2018