The National Park Idea

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Stephen Tyng Mather, first Director of the National Park Service
Stephen Tyng Mather, first Director of the National Park Service

Though the treatment of New Discovery may represent the modern National Park philosophy, the public enthusiasm for preserving this place began long ago.

The feeling about how the property was managed under the Croghan heirs and their trustees was souring in the local community by the turn of the 20th Century. Timber was widely cut on the property and the buildings had begun to degrade from lack of maintenance. Visitation sank from an 1860s total of between 30,000 and 40,000 to less than 9,000 annually by 1911. The public had begun to feel a regional attachment to the cave, and undoubtedly had an economic interest in the property, as visitors traveling through the area would require services outside the estate.

U.S. Senator M.M. Logan first took the concept of a Mammoth Cave National Park to the Secretary of the Interior just after 1900, and although the Secretary in 1908 declared the Mammoth Cave lands "suitable" for inclusion as a national park, it would be three years before Kentucky’s Third District Representative would introduce a house bill, HR1666, providing "that the Federal government take by condemnation or purchase the Mammoth Cave property containing 1710 acres" along with "such other lands as may be necessary" to create a national park. The bill also authorized the Secretary of War to begin to carry out the act. Hearings on the bill were held in 1912, but no action followed. A similar bill, HR 3110, was introduced in 1919, but again, no action.

Mather Steps In

It would take Stephen Mather himself, the first Director of the National Park Service, to give the project the final push:

"Many efforts have been made in the past to secure the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, with sufficient adjoining area, including the recently discovered Onyx Cave, to permit of its full development for a National park, but thus far these efforts have been fruitless ... more National Parks are needed in the east and the inclusion of the Mammoth Cave region would add one of the most remarkable of ‘distinguished examples of typical forms of world architecture to the proud national park family."

Mather’s annual report of 1923 continued this line of argument, and at last the Secretary of the Interior in 1925 created the Southern Appalachian National Park Commission to survey three possible park sites in that area, Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave. In 1924, Milton H. Smith, Jr., George E. Zubrod, Senator Mills. M. Logan, Max B. Nahm, Judge John B. Rodes met, along with other members of the community, at the Moorehead House in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to form the Mammoth Cave National Park Association as a body which could transact the legal matters pertaining to the creation of a national park in central Kentucky.

Last updated: May 23, 2018

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