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America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
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Table of Contents


The Early Years,

Defining The System,

The New Deal Years,

The Poverty Years,

Questions of
Resource Management

The Ecological Revolution,

Transformation and

A System Threatened,

Summaries of
Lengthy Documents

About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 2:
Defining the System 1919-1932
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Secretary Work's Letter on National Policy, 1925


Memorandum for the Director, National Park Service.

Owing to changed conditions since the establishment in 1917 [sic] of the National Park Service as an independent bureau of the Department of the Interior, I find it advisable to restate the policy governing the administration of the national park system to which the Service will adhere.

This policy is based on three broad, accepted principles:

First, that the national parks and national monuments must be maintained untouched by the inroad of modern civilization in order that unspoiled bits of native America may be preserved by future generations as well as our own;

Second, that they are set apart for the use, education, health and pleasure of all the people;

Third, that the national interest must take precedence in all decisions affecting public or private enterprise in the parks and monuments.

The duty imposed upon the National Park Service in the organic act creating it to faithfully preserve the parks and monuments for posterity in essentially their natural state is paramount to every other activity.

The commercial use of these reservations, except as specially authorized by law, or such as may be incidental to the accommodation and entertainment of visitors, is not to be permitted.

In national parks where the grazing of cattle has been permitted in isolated regions not frequented by visitors, such grazing is to be gradually eliminated.

Lands leased for the operation of hotels, camps, transportation facilities, or other public service under strict Government control, should be confined to tracts no larger than absolutely necessary for the purposes of their enterprises.

The leasing of park and monument lands for summer homes will not be permitted. Under a policy of permitting the establishment of summer homes, these reservations might become so generally settled as to exclude from convenient access to their streams, lakes, or other natural features, and thus destroy the very basis upon which this national playground system is being constructed.

The cutting of trees is not to be permitted except where timber is needed in the construction of buildings or other improvements within a park or monument and only when the trees can be removed without injury to the forests or disfigurement of the landscape; where the thinning of forests or cutting of vistas will reveal the scenic features of a park or monument; or where their destruction is necessary to eliminate insect infestations or diseases common to forests and shrubs.

In the construction of roads, trails, buildings and other improvements, these should be harmonized with the landscape. This important item in our program of development requires the employment of trained engineers who either possess a knowledge of landscape architecture or have a proper appreciation of the esthetic value of parks and monuments. All improvements should be carried out in accordance with a preconceived plan developed with special reference to the preservation of the landscape. The overdevelopment of parks and monuments by the construction of roads should be zealously guarded against.

Exclusive jurisdiction over national parks and monuments is desirable as more effective measures for their protection can be taken. The Federal Government has exclusive jurisdiction over the national parks in the States of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Oregon, and of three of the parks in California; also in the Territories of Hawaii and Alaska. The cession of exclusive jurisdiction over the parks in the other States, and particularly in Arizona and Colorado, is urged, as over all the national monuments.

There still remain many private holdings in the national parks, although through the generosity of public-spirited citizens many of these which seriously hampered their administration have been donated to the Federal Government. All of them should be eliminated as far as it is practicable to accomplish this purpose in the course of time, either through Congressional appropriation or by acceptance of donations of these lands. Isolated tracts in important scenic areas should be given first consideration, of course, in the purchase of private property.

The public should be afforded every opportunity to enjoy the national parks and monuments in the manner that best satisfies the individual taste. Automobiles and motorcycles operated for pleasure but not for profit, except automobiles used by transportation companies operating under Government franchise, are permitted in the national parks. The parks and monuments should be kept accessible by any means practicable.

All outdoor sports within the safeguards thrown around the national parks by law, should be heartily endorsed and aided wherever possible. Mountain climbing, horseback riding, walking, motoring, swimming, boating, and fishing will ever be the favorite sports. Winter sports are being rapidly developed in the parks and this form of recreation promises to become an important recreational use. Hunting is not permitted in any national park or monument except in Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska, in accordance with the provisions of the organic act creating it.

The educational use of the national parks should be encouraged in every practicable way. University and high school classes in science will find special facilities for their vacation period studies. Museums containing specimens of wild flowers, shrubs, and trees, and mounted animals, birds, and fish native to the parks and monuments, and other exhibits of this character, should be established as funds are provided.

Low-priced camps operated under Government franchise are maintained, as well as comfortable and even luxurious hotels. Free camp grounds equipped with adequate water and sanitation facilities are provided in each reservation. These camp grounds should be extended as travel warrants and funds are available.

As franchises for the operation of public utilities in the national parks represent in most instances a large investment, and as the obligation to render service satisfactory to the Department at carefully regulated rates is imposed, these enterprises must be given a large measure of protection, and generally speaking competitive business is not authorized where an operator is meeting service requirements, which coincide as nearly as possible with the needs of the traveling public.

All franchises yield revenues to the Federal Government which, together with automobile license fees collected in the parks where a license fee is charged, are deposited to the credit of miscellaneous receipts in the Treasury of the United States. Due allowance is made by Congress for revenues collected in appropriating funds for the upkeep and improvement of the parks and monuments.

In the solution of administrative problems in the parks and monuments relating both to their protection and use, the scientific bureaus of the Government are called upon for assistance. For instance, in the protection of public health, the Public Health Service of the Treasury Department cooperates; in the destruction of insect pests in the forests, the Bureau of Entomology of the Department of Agriculture is called upon; and in propagation and distribution of fish, the Bureau of Fisheries of the Department of Commerce gives its hearty cooperation.

In informing the traveling public how to reach the parks and monuments comfortably, the splendid cooperation given by the railroads, automobile highway associations, chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus is acknowledged and should be furthered for the purpose of spreading information about the national parks and monuments and facilitating their use and enjoyment. Every effort should be made to keep informed of park movements and park progress, municipal, county, and State, both at home and abroad, for the purpose of adapting, whenever practicable, the world's best thought to the needs of the national park system. All movements looking to outdoor living should be encouraged. A close working relationship with the Dominion Parks Branch of the Canadian Department of the Interior should be maintained to assist in the solution of park problems of an international character.

Our existing national park system is unequaled for grandeur. Additional areas when chosen should in every respect measure up to the dignity, prestige, and standard of those already established. Proposed park projects should contain scenery of distinctive quality or some natural features so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance, such as typical forms of natural architecture as those only found in America. Areas considered for national parks should be extensive and susceptible of development so as to permit millions of visitors annually to enjoy the benefits of outdoor life and contact with nature without confusion from overcrowding.

In considering projects involving the establishment of national parks or the extension of existing park areas by transfer of lands from national forests the effect such change of status would have on the administration of adjacent forest lands should be carefully considered. It might be well to point out the basic difference between national parks and national forests. National forests are created to administer lumbering and grazing interests for the people, the trees being cut in accordance with the principles of scientific forestry, conserving the smaller trees until they grow to a certain size, thus perpetuating the forests. Grazing is permitted in national forests under governmental regulations, while in the national parks grazing is only permitted where not detrimental to the enjoyment and preservation of the scenery and may be entirely prohibited. Hunting is permitted in season in the national forests but never in the national parks, which are permanent game sanctuaries. In short, national parks unlike national forests, are not properties in a commercial sense, but natural preserves for the rest, recreation and education of the people. They remain under Nature's own chosen conditions. Therefore, in an investigation of such park projects the cooperation of officers of the Forest Service should be sought in accordance with the recommendations of the President's Committee on Outdoor Recreation in order that questions of national park and national forest policy as they affect the lands involved may be thoroughly understood.

HUBERT WORK, Secretary of the Interior.

National Park Service Handbook of Administrative Policies for Natural Areas, 1968,72-75.

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