The NPS in Changing Times

By the early 1930s, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression, and the changes that swept the nation affected the NPS as well. Unemployment had reached a critical level. When newly elected Franklin Roosevelt took office, he acted quickly to combat the economic chaos. One of his first measures was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The goals of the Civilian Conservation Corps were twofold: to provide jobs for thousands of unemployed men and to replenish the resources of the nation’s forests, parks, and range lands. Their work included building roads, dams, housing, and visitor centers; stringing telephone lines; installing drainage systems; protecting fish and wildlife habitats; and planting millions of trees.

The program was a huge success as viewed by some while others were concerned that the parks were being over developed. By the time the Corps was discontinued in 1942, it had employed more than 3 million men and completed tens of thousands of projects, many of which are still in full use today.

The Reorganization Act of 1933

The Park Service itself underwent a major change, one which Albright had requested years earlier. In 1933, the Reorganization Act was passed, giving the president the authority to transfer national monuments from one governmental department to another.

The War Department's parks and monuments were transferred to the NPS that same year along with the national monuments administered by the Department of Agriculture and the sites included in the national capital parks in Washington, DC. In all, these orders gave the NPS 57 new areas

Impact of Change

The Reorganization Act of 1933 resulted in:

  • The consolidation of all the national parks and national monuments into one National Park System.
  • The broadening and strengthening of the newly developed preservation program by adding all federally owned national military parks, battlefield sites, and shrines, including Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Fort McHenry.
  • The addition of great national memorials such as the Statute of Liberty and the Washington Monument.
  • The addition of the National Capital public buildings and parks to the System.

A new focus on historic preservation with increased efforts to rescue, protect, and develop these nationally significant historic places.

Importance of Cultural History

Park Service historian Barry Mackintosh calls this reorganization "the most significant event in the evolution of the National Park System." He goes on to explain, "There was now a single system of federal parklands, truly national in scope, embracing historic as well as natural places. The Service's major involvement with historic sites held limitless potential for the system's further growth.”

A Broader Scope of Responsibility

The NPS took on a still larger role in the mid 1930s, when Congress created new categories of parklands.

The Historic Sites Act of 1935 confirmed and expanded the role of the NPS in preserving and restoring park resources and engaging in educational activities related to historic sites.

The Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act of 1936 led to the purchase of land for parkways and recreational areas. The act's goal of was in keeping with the government's expanding interest in improving the quality of life of U.S. citizens.

In 1937, the first national seashore was created at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This initiated an expansion of the National Park System to include islands and beaches of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes.

Wildlife Inventory

Introduced During the 1930’s, a new program was designed to evaluate the status of each park's wildlife, identify species that were in danger, and generate ideas for restoration. This wildlife survey program, initiated by park naturalist George Wright, represented one of the Park Service's earliest efforts toward scientific wildlife conservation and management.

Last updated: March 11, 2016