NATIONAL PARKS AND MONUMENTS
The National Park Service is the instrument which the United States has created to conserve the beauty and freedom of its landscape in unique or typical exhibits, and to protect features of exceptional scientific or historic interest. National Parks and Monuments are the areas set aside for the purpose of such conservation. Parks are created by act of Congress; Monuments by the Administration, acting through the President and Secretary of the Interior. Save in this, there is no essential difference between them, except that Parks are primarily landscape areas, preserving the beauty of scenery for the inspiration and enjoyment of the people, while Monuments look primarily to the preservation in the public interest of scientific or historic features worthy of the Nation's guarding.
In certain cases both elements are present, and in high degree. The Yellowstone National Park contains features of extraordinary scientific interest in addition to its striking landscape. The Grand Canyon National Monument is the most stupendous exhibit in the world of stream erosion, but it is less of this than of its beauty that one thinks when one is there. The Yosemite and the Sieur de Monts, the one created as a Park, the other as a Monument, are both recreation areas of national importance, stimulating as no duller landscape can the tired worker; but both are rich besides in scientific and historic features.
Such parks as these are more than playgrounds; they represent the wholesome and invigorating influence of Nature on the lives of men. They should represent her finally in every interesting phase the storm-swept, rocky coast of Maine; the Indiana sand-dunes; the limestone caverns of Kentucky; the deep-cut canyons of Utah, Idaho, and Arizona; the volcanic peaks of Washington and Oregon; the glaciers and snow-fields of Montana; the giant Sequoias and grand Sierra scenery of eastern California.
It is not a question of extent. The Grand Canyon of Arizona, the vastest single landscape feature on the Continent, and the Muir Woods in California, a noble grove of the Coast Redwoods not over three hundred acres in extent, were set aside alike as National possessions by the President and Secretary of the Interior under the authority given them by the Monument Act. And Congress has acted similarly in regard to Parks. Rightly chosen, lesser areas are richer proportionally than greater ones. This was long since pointed out by Wallace, the great English naturalist, with reference to preserving the wild native life plant, bird or animal in the English Colonies. He urged establishing in them, before it was too late, chains of relatively small but carefully selected sanctuaries extending through a province or a region and exhibiting in their sum its life and landscape with a completeness that no single area could, however great. Such individually lesser tracts have the advantage, too, of being able to co-exist with man in inhabited regions; round them the tides of future life can rise without invading them, but only adding to their human usefulness.
This on a continental scale, is the opportunity which lies before us in the East. Lands no greater in total than a single National Forest or one of several of the larger western Parks, linked by a nationally planned road system, reasonably protected from disfigurement and served by inns at motoring distances, would yield, if well selected, a return beyond estimate in interest and beauty, in wild life conservation and in recreational value. In one part or another and at one time or another, a vast proportion of the people of the Nation dwelling in the Eastern and Central States would traverse them and take delight in them.
The conditions East and West are radically different, owing to the mountain chains and rainfall. This difference the National Park Service, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is seeking to recognize in a plan for eastern park development embodying a thought akin to Wallace's. Of it the Sieur de Monts National Monument on the coast of Maine is the first expression. With an ultimate area of some twenty-eight square miles, it places in the Nation's hands the noblest and most beautiful scenic tract, and one of the richest biologically, upon our Eastern Coast.
A second area of similar extent might well be that of the remarkable Sand Dunes bordering on Lake Michigan in Indiana. Unique in landscape character and the habitat of a unique and interesting wild flower vegetation, they should be preserved forever in their native wildness as a national possession. Such conservation is not a State affair; its benefits are National, shared by the inhabitants of many States.
In the East, we have a vast industrial population spreading over the whole land with giant strides. Its successful continuance in the world-struggle for existence involves the keenest kind of brain activity upon the part not of a few leaders only but of multitudes. No relief from its fatigues and strain is so wholly beneficial, no influence so helpful to change and uplift the current of a jaded mental worker's thought, from the clerk to the Cabinet officer or Congressman, from the teacher to the College president, from the stenographer to the business manager, as that of Nature in her grander or more intimately arresting aspects. None other leaves such pleasant, restful memories behind, or so awakens the spirit to new resources in the world of beauty.
How great the influence of such things may be, expressed in limited areas of concentrated interest, in ancient woods, in springs with a pure gift of water, in mountains rising from a level plain of land or sea and touched by clouds, the history of the world reveals on every page. The two most sacred spots in Greece, or bordering upon it, Delphi and Dodona, places whose influence we unconsciously still feel to-day, were founded upon scenery rock crags, oak woods, and springs. Mount Olympus, an outstanding coastal peak in Thessaly, made an impression on the Greeks' imagination that entered deeply into their religion; Mount Sinai entered still more deeply into the religion of the Hebrews. The oak forests of the north were linked inseparably with the Druid faith. We look upon the world with greater knowledge now than did the Greeks and Latins, the ancient Hebrews or the Druids, but the nature and the natural features that meant so much to them, and played so great a part in awakening in them the spiritual and imaginative energies on which our civilization largely rests to-day, cannot vanish from our young national life, growing into new phases now where every stimulating and higher influence will be required, without incalculable loss.
In early times men set certain areas aside as sacred, devoted to their God, because of the impression of awfulness or holiness these made on them; something divine, they felt, hung over them. For us wrongly perhaps the divine has receded into greater distances of thought and space, but the same quality in nature that moved them moves us, although we no longer embody it, as they, in personal form. This quality certain spots in the great Western parks possess remarkably; they move men, who seek them in a receptive mood, as with the felt presence of an unseen power. Such presence haunts the Sequoia groves and grand coniferous forests of the Pacific slope. It haunts extraordinarily the glorious deep canyons of the Yosemite and the Mukuntuweap. It haunts the snow-clad, cloud-compelling peak of Mount Rainier. And it haunts no less the ancient granite rocks of Mount Desert, with the blue ocean plain on which they look and the breaking of the sea against them.
Years ago the United States led the way among the nations of the earth in recognizing by action the importance of landscape conservation for the people's benefit. Beginning with the Yellowstone, with its remarkable geysers and its position at the parting of the waters east and west, step by step it has included in the Park system which it then established representative features of the great western landscapes. The Falls of the Yellowstone, the Vernal and Nevada Falls of the Yosemite are among the few supremely beautiful waterfalls on the Continent, both in their setting and owing to their height, which turns the spray of the descending waters into exquisite wreaths of mist. The Grand Canyon and the Mukuntuweap Monuments, with the Snake River Canyon of Idaho perhaps a third, have few if any equals in the world for sheer magnificence of rock exhibit. The ice and snow of northern Alpine heights, with the characteristic Alpine vegetation that accompanies them, are shown on a grand scale in Glacier Park. A magnificent specimen of an extinct volcanic cone is shown in Mt. Rainier, and the ruins of an exploded cone in Crater Lake, while the most splendid park of all, perhaps, in its wonderful evergreen forest, deep valleys and high mountain peaks will be the future Sequoia Park of eastern California, when it shall be complete.
To guard such areas of inspiring landscape, East and West, and make them accessible not only to the wealthy, who can travel widely, but to the multitude of workers in our towns and cities who need the uplift, the splendid change of scenery, the brief or longer contact with Nature in her beauty and intrinsic freedom as a relief from responsibility and daily toil, is the task of the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service. To fulfil it rightly and develop that great asset of the Nation, the scenic beauty of its land, as a means to health and happiness and to a larger life, the active interest and cooperation of the People and their chosen representatives in Congress is urgently desired.
Last Updated: 03-Dec-2009