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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 3:
The New Deal Years: 1933 - 1941
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By Rosalie Edge


"Build a road!" Apparently this is the first idea that occurs to those who formulate projects for the unemployed. In consequence, a superfluity of four-width boulevards, with the verdure cut back for many feet on either side, goes slashing into our countrysides, without regard for the destruction of vegetation, and, too often without consideration of whether the road is needed at all. The motoring public always travels by the new road, and those who dwell along such highways, and have chosen their homes from a preference for seclusion, find themselves parked beside arteries of ceaseless traffic. No provision is made for pedestrians; and a man takes his life in his hands if he ventures on foot to call on his next door neighbor. The city dweller is forced to go far afield if he is to see aught besides asphalt, or to breathe air not polluted with carbon monoxide gas.

The work of relief employment is not based primarily, as it should be, on the usefulness and desirability of a project; such aims are, (of necessity it would seem) too often subordinated to the imperative need to put to work immediately thousands of men registered for relief through one agency or another. Vast sums are appropriated for work relief; and to use this money justly and usefully is a problem indeed. As a nation, we have adjusted our ethics to the pork-barrel; and each state, each county, city and village, loudly and insistently demands a share of the spoils.

A project which is useful, or only mildly harmful, in one county is too often repeated merely to allay jealousy in another county, where the same project may be positively detrimental. Mosquito control may be quoted as one example. The dwellers in the thickly populated suburban districts of Long Island demand that mosquitos be controlled on the surrounding great areas of salt marsh. Thousands of dollars are appropriated for this work, and armies of C.C.C. men begin to dig ditches in every direction. Then, as soon as it becomes known that Long Island townships have much money to spend on mosquito control, an outcry arises from upland communities, insisting that their mosquitoes also be destroyed. The situation in the uplands is entirely different from that of the seaside; in one the marshes are salt and in the other they are fresh. The various species of mosquitoes are not the same. While the mosquitoes of the salt marsh easily fly twenty-five miles, or more, the fresh marsh mosquito does not travel more than a mile away from its breeding-place. What do county officials or project makers care for such elementary facts? Fresh water marshes, miles distant from any town, are drained without regard to their importance as breeding places of valuable birds and furbearers. Thus, in order to grasp at the money which they see passed so easily from hand to hand, do the upland communities destroy sources of recreation and profit on which they might rely year by year.

So it is with roads. Through the medium of road-building, money may be buttered evenly over the whole country. There is a fixed idea in the American mind, inherited from a pioneer ancestry which suffered from having no roads at all, that any additional road must be good and that one cannot have too much of a good thing. Consequently, there have already been built with federal funds more roads than can possibly be kept in repair by state and local communities—roads parallel, roads crisscross, roads elevated, roads depressed, roads circular and roads in the shape of four-leaf clovers; a madness of roads, too many of which will be left untended to fall into disrepair and disrepute.


Turning to government-owned lands, we find that work relief has entered our National Parks and Forests in force. Each one of these has its C.C.C. camps; and road-building is again the chief employment of the hundreds of men thus introduced into the wilderness. Can anyone suppose that a wilderness and a C.C.C. camp can exist side by side? And can a wilderness contain a highway?

It is conceded that the National Parks must have roads. The Parks are recreational and educational centres for all the people; and admirably do they fulfill these functions. On the other hand, no one who knows the National Parks is so naive as to believe them to be wilderness areas. They have within their borders great hotels and acres of well-equipped camps. The crowds that visit them are splendidly handled; but the management of thousands of visitors makes it necessary to have offices and living quarters for a large personnel, besides stores, parking houses, docks, corrals, and garages; all of which encroach upon the wilderness. Virgin timber has been felled to build hotels, and valuable trees are cut each year for firewood. In the past, grazing has injured both the forests and meadows; and logging operations have been extensive within the Park boundaries. Some primitive areas, however, still exist in almost all the Parks. These should be guarded as the nation's greatest treasure; and no roads should be permitted to deface their beauty.

The Park Service is eager to prevent repetition of the vandalism that has ruined Park areas in the past; but great pressure is brought to bear by commercial interests that press to have new areas opened in order to obtain new concessions. In addition, there is thrust upon the Park Superintendents the necessity to employ C.C.C. men, whether or not their services are needed; and the wilderness goes down before these conquerors. The support of the public at large must be added to the efforts of the Park Service in order to save the most beautiful of the wild places. The situation is well told in an editorial from Glacial Drift, the organ of Glacier National Park, as follows:

"Let those who clamor for the opening of the last primitive valleys of the park . . . remember that the charm of many places rests in their solitude and inaccessibility. Let those who consider accessibility and ease alone, weigh carefully which gives more enduring recollection, the dash over Logan Pass or the horseback or foot trip over Indian Pass, and learn that one appreciates in more lasting measure those things which one must gain through the expenditure of effort. Let those who urge more roads bear in mind that the marring of countryside does not end with the construction of a broad, two-lane, highway, absolutely safe when driven at a sane speed commensurate with the full enjoyment of a National Park, but that even the gentlest curves must be eliminated, the width ever increased, each reopening a wound to leave a more gaping scar; with no more turns with delightful surprises beyond, for there are to be no turns; only greater speed and safety, though we may well note the irony of the latter in mountainous regions where improvement always has resulted in more fatalities. Let us recall the hundreds who dash daily over Logan Pass, without so much as a stop, or the great number who, like the camper from the Atlantic seaboard, boasted he had just been in three National Parks on that day and would be in Mt. Ranier on the morrow!"

In the Parks we find hotels and other buildings in a style according, as much as possible, with the surroundings—how shocked we should be to find a skyscraper in a National Park! We need to develop roads that shall be suited to Park purposes and not to bring into their solitudes the great boulevards that are appropriate only where the population is densely crowded. Engineers are not trained in esthetic values; and when producing a triumph of their profession they give small heed to the beauty of the flora, or the interest of the other features of the landscape on which they lay their heavy hands. In the Yellowstone Park a road was last summer, quite needlessly, carried over a thermal spring. What is one less hot spring to a road-engineer? The Yellowstone Park has many hot springs—but now it has one less. A road, suitable for the transport of great loads, is not needed in the Parks; but around the camp fires any evening one may hear the boast: "We drove all the way up without changing gear," or "We never dropped below forty." Our Parks should not be desecrated for the whims of such drivers; obstacles might well be put in the way of fast driving in order to induce the tourists to contemplate the wonders of the forests and mountains spread out before them. Why cut away the crest of each rise, leaving ugly cuts with sides so steep that they cannot support plant life? A continuous easy grade is not essential for driving which is almost entirely recreational; and much primitive beauty is lost through exalting every valley and bringing every mountain low. Even the wilderness not traversed by roads is not safe from the despoiler. High up on Ptarmigan Pass in Glacier Park we met a tractor widening a so-called trail to the width of a wagon road, and watched the C.C.C. men stoop and pick out small stones with their hands. They were making a Rotten Row of a trail across what is still happily a great wilderness of virgin forest.

Last summer we stood at the top of Logan Pass and watched the cars come sweeping to the summit. They might pause for five minutes in the great parking place, decorated with landscaped beds of shrubs bordered with stone copings, which belittle what was once one of the most glorious points of the Rocky Mountains. Many people did not leave their cars, others stepped down for a few minutes to look, and to wonder that such height could be reached without a heated engine. A ranger invited and even pleaded with the sightseers to go with him on a short walk to see the secluded wonder of Hidden Lake. "You can have no idea standing here," he said, "what a wonderful thing it is to go there ... a very little way. . . ." While he spoke, his voice was drowned in the whirr of the self-starters. The little group of nature-lovers who followed him discovered the loveliness of the lake and saw, besides Rosy Finches and White-tailed Ptarmigan. They did not miss the company of the motorists who were by that time far in the valley below, rushing on in their enjoyment of perpetual motion.

For roads more appropriate to the National Parks, we offer two suggestions which we believe to be practical:

1. ONE-WAY ROADS. One-way roads could be narrow and so more easily follow the grade and contour of the land. Roads, roughly paralleled, leading in opposite directions, might be separated by a strip of woodland, as has been done in some of the parkways around great cities, preserving the illusion of wilderness and reducing the great scars that wide roads make on mountain sides. The cost might be increased but the project would have the advantage of providing work for an additional number of men. With no danger from cars coming in the opposite direction, it would not be necessary for a driver to see so far ahead as on a two-way road, and trees and shrubs could be permitted to grow close on either side. At convenient intervals the road should be widened so that a car may draw aside and stop to permit the occupants to enjoy the distant view or the nearby beauty. It is often argued that roads in the National Parks are needed for the aged and for those unable to take the horse and foot trails— but is it, indeed, fair to these people to be forced to drive along roads so wide that the flowers and shrubs and even the trees are too far distant to the right and left to be enjoyed, and which are lined on both sides with further bare spaces? What chance has anyone to identify a bird? May not a car sometimes be permitted to saunter, to linger, and even to pause? We believe one-way roads would increase enjoyment, and insure greater safety.

2. PREVENTIVE LANDSCAPING. We recommend that the landscape gardeners, who do what they can to patch and cover up the wounds made by the engineers, precede, as well as follow, the road-builders. The ground-cover might often be put aside, and replaced after the road is completed, or used elsewhere. Last September we traversed the road that crosses the Great Smoky Mountains from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Two years ago this was a fine road, and adequately graded for all recreational purposes. Now, further smoothed out and straightened by C.C.C. labor, the raw, steeply-cut sides are artificial and ugly to a degree. The summit, like that of Logan Pass, is laid out in the manner of suburbs and cemeteries. This cicatrice across the heart of the lovliest of forests is a sin against Nature. The C.C.C. men were heaping and burning fifteen and twenty-foot high rhododendrons, which had been roughly uprooted, with no regard to their value. The ground cover of small, woodsy wild things had been dug under. In some places landscaping had veiled the raw earth but with man-made art. We hope that this amelioration of unsightliness may be continued; but no art can replace Nature's treasures; these must be saved before they are ground beneath the road-makers' ruthless heel. Such destruction of native grasses, plants and shrubs along our roads may be observed in every state.

Pamphlet No. 54, Emergency Conservation Committee. Library, Sequoia National Park, Ash Mountain, 1-6 (for pages included in this volume).

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Last Modified: October 25, 2000 10:00:00 am PST

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