cover to
America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
Cover Page


    Table of Contents


    The Early Years, 1864-1918

    Defining The System, 1919-1932

    The New Deal Years, 1933-1941

    The Poverty Years, 1942-1956

    Questions of Resource Management, 1957-1963

    The Ecological Revolution

    Transformation and Expansion, 1970-1980

    A System Threatened, 1981-1992

    Appendix: Summaries of Lengthy Documents

    About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 2:
Defining the System 1919-1932

Superintendent's Resolution on Overdevelopment, 1922

Prepared at the National Park Service Conference
Nov. 13-17, 1922; Yosemite Park, Calif.
With Explanatory Letter.

BE IT RESOLVED by the officers and superintendents of the National Park Service, that the best interests of the nation will be served by a more adequate development of the national parks. Roads and trails should be improved and extended, ample accommodations should be provided for visitors, and other improvements carried out, so that the parks may better fulfill their mission of healthful recreation and education to a larger number of people.

It is, however, stated as a policy of the National Park Service, that over-development of any national park, or any portion of a national park, is undesirable and should be avoided. Certain areas should be reserved in each park, with a minimum amount of development, in order that animals, forest, flowers and all native life shall be preserved under natural conditions.

One of the objects of the National Park Service is to preserve some of the finest of our scenery for future generations, that they may always know the quiet dignity of our forests and the rugged grandeur of our mountains. In the development of the parks, some of these areas should be made possible of access, but they should be protected from anything that will impair them.

Plans for the development of each national park should be outlined as far ahead as possible, in order that the park may receive adequate development, without over-development.

In developing the national parks of the United States, care will be exercised to prevent the over-development of any park.

This policy was discussed at the recent conference of National Park officials, held at Yosemite, California, from November 12 to 17,1922. A resolution was passed stating that the National Park Service favored the continued improvement and development of the national parks, but that it did not favor, and would guard against, overdevelopment of any national park, or any portion of a national park.

The present difficulty in most of the national parks is to secure satisfactory development, maintenance and protection with the limited funds that are available, but nevertheless, future plans will be so laid out that no park, or portion of a park, will become over-developed.

It is the intention to make the chief scenic features of each park accessible to the average visitor, but to set aside certain regions of each park, which will not be traversed by automobile roads, and will have only such trails or other development as will be necessary for protection of the area.

The national parks offer to the American public not only great opportunities for healthful recreation but constantly increasing opportunities for acquiring information on many phases of natural history and science.

In our schools, the youth of the land receives, with more or less labor and reluctance, such education and instruction as can be derived from books. A vital part of the education of every individual is to acquire at least a partial understanding and appreciation of nature and scenery. This is best obtained at the fountain source, in the out-of-doors, where Nature's works are unimpaired and unrestricted by the hand of man. An education of this sort is usually achieved with the keenest interest and the most genuine pleasure. If all of our education could be obtained in such an enjoyable manner, there would be less ignorance and much more knowledge.

A child starts his school life at the age of six years, let us say, and continues his studies until the necessity, the incentive or the opportunity is withdrawn. The book study ceases. The study of nature should supplement but not replace the study of books, and it has this advantage, that it may be begun at any time, carried on without interfering with other work, and need never be stopped, for there are always new fields of knowledge stretching ahead, and all that is needed is a keen interest and appreciation.

The study of nature develops power of observation, quickens the senses, increases the usefulness of an individual in any line of work or occupation, and makes his life broader, deeper, happier.

Every boy and girl knows a few flowers, a few trees, a few birds and something about rocks and physical geography. Who is there who would not gladly know more of these interesting subjects? The story is told of a prairie boy who, when asked to name three trees, replied, "Cottonwood, willow, —sagebrush." We laugh at the originality of his answer but the heart is touched by the poverty of experience and the lack of opportunity that it suggests.

To go back to our subject, the mission of the national parks is to provide, not cheap amusement, but healthful recreation and to supplement the work of schools by opening the doors of Nature's laboratory, to awaken an interest in natural science as an adjunct to the commercial and industrial work of the world.

Another object for which the parks were created, is to set aside for future generations, certain areas that are typical of our finest scenery. They are to be held free from commercial exploitation. The standing forests will prove more valuable than the lumber they would produce, the graceful waterfall will prove more precious than the power it would yield, the unscarred beauty of the mountain is worth more than the mineral wealth that may be buried in its heart. In order that our nation may grow and prosper, forests must be cut, streams must be turned onto dry lands, cararacts must give up their power, meadows must be shorn to feed the flocks. These things are necessary. Scenery must often be destroyed by commerce, beauty must often be sacrificed to industry. But in order that we shall not squander all of our birthright, a few jewels of scenery are set aside for ourselves and for posterity to enjoy.

To obtain the greatest good from our national parks, some portions of every park must be made readily accessible by first class roads. Provision must be made for the automobile camper, and for the accommodation and transportation of other visitors. But not all of Nature's treasures are to be seen from the seat of an automobile; one does not receive at twenty miles an hour, the inspiration that results from a pilgrimage on foot; and an automobile horn is less effective than the silence of solitude, to awaken thoughts that are deep and abiding. Someone had said, "Great views make great thoughts, great thoughts make great men". The national parks should be a real factor in the building of a better, stronger race.

When a camping area becomes fully developed, other areas should be opened, and thus prevent the over-crowding of any locality. Before the travel on a road becomes excessive, other roads should be built that will divert a part of the traffic and prevent congestion.

It is not desirable to fully develop all portions of the park. Some portions should be made easily accessible to motorists, by means of good roads; other regions should attract parties on horseback, by means of good trails; still other areas should be accessible only to those who journey on foot.

The development of a park will, therefore, not be uniform throughout. Some portions will be fully developed, others partly developed, and still others will be left in their natural, wild condition. Such variety will best serve the varied needs of the different classes of visitors. Geographic conditions will play an important part, and the plans for development must be adapted to topography. For example, in a mountainous region, the principal roads may be best located in the valleys, leading to the principal scenic points. Trails may be built up the tributary streams. The greater portion of the area, including the high regions, the ridges and the peaks will be left untouched, but still accessible to those with sufficient vigor and enthusiasm.

If there were no development, no roads or trails, no hotels or camps, a national park would be merely a wilderness, not serving the purpose for what it was set aside, not benefitting the general public. No one is selfish enough to wish to withhold development, but many are keenly interested in seeing development properly directed. The parks should be popular, but never commonplace. They should accommodate crowds if necessary but without over-crowding. Animals should be protected in their natural surroundings rather than caged in a zoo. Outdoor recreation should supplant cheap amusements. Museums and nature study should be offered to stimulate along educational and beneficial lines rather than to accentuate sight-seeing of an unintelligent order.

There will always be some parts of every national park that will be kept in their original state of nature. These areas will offer quiet retreats for wild life. The forests will be in less danger of destruction by the careless camper. The hiker, the mountaineer, the artist, the student, he who wishes to leave the throng and penetrate the unfrequented places would find delight in their sanctuaries. They will not be visited by those, who in restless haste, see much and appreciate but little.

Every national park now has such undeveloped areas. Yellowstone has vast regions in the southwest and in the southeast corners, that are rarely visited. The northern part of Glacier Park is known to but the few who have explored on foot or by pack train. Mount Rainier has snow fields and glaciers that are rarely trodden by the foot of man. Crater Lake is viewed by many but explored by few. Lassen and Mt. McKinley parks are difficult of access and almost wholly undeveloped. Yosemite has thousands of visitors to its beautiful valley floor, but mile after mile of quiet forest and leaping stream that are rarely visited. The Giant Forest of Sequoia Park has been an inspiration to many though few have really explored the high Sierra country that lies to the eastward. The Grand Canyon and Zion Park each contain valleys and gorges into which man has never penetrated. Mesa Verde has a hundred ruins built by a prehistoric race, whose secrets have not been brought to light by the archaeologist's shovel. Rocky Mountain has many a peak and pinnacle, canyon and cliff, lovely meadow and charming lakelet that is unvisited save by those who love the rough trail and the trackless wilds. Hawaii National Park has, in Kilauea, a lake of fire, that has drawn visitors from all over the world, but how many have looked into the summit crater of Mauna Loa?

It is a conservative statement to say that ninety percent of the visitors to any park, never get far from the automobile roads. Probably not one park can claim to have ten percent of its area fully developed, and readily accessible. Nine tenths of the park travel is, therefore, in one tenth of the park area.

There is no sharp line between necessary, proper development and harmful over-development. The best judgment and active work of all concerned must be focused together in order to secure the best results. At present the educational and economic value of the national parks to the nation, is restricted by insufficient development. Far-sighted men, however, are making plans for years ahead, and it is to guide future protection that the National Park Service announces its stand, "For adequate development, but against over-development."

Roger W. Toll
Rocky Mountain Nat'1 Park.
December 1, 1922.
National Park Service Archives, Harpers Ferry, Box K5410.

NEXT>Secretary Work's Letter on National Park Policy, 1925


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