World War II (1939 – 1945) had presented its own set of challenges for the NPS. Director Newton Drury had been faced with the task of protecting the nation's parks from those who wanted to use their resources for the war effort. Although he was besieged by loggers and salvage committees who wanted to use historic cannons for scrap metal, he managed to keep the parks intact.
The war years took their toll on the parks. With the return of peace and the subsequent increase of travel, the parks' problems became painfully evident. Visitation to national parks swelled, overwhelming run-down facilities. A 1955 article in a popular magazine warned potential park visitors that their trips were "likely to be fraught with discomfort, disappointment, even danger.” On June 26, 1956, in the midst of the Cold War, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, approving the creation of a 41,000-mile highway system. These new roads meant that travel and, consequently, park visitation were sure to increase even more.
That same year, NPS Director Conrad Wirth responded to the park system's decline with an ambitious 10-year program dubbed Mission 66.
Congress and the president approved of the idea and ultimately spent over a billion dollars on the program. Improvements included staff increases, new housing for employees, and staff development. Some described his initiative as a "renaissance.”
Last updated: March 11, 2016