On-line Book
Cover to America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
Cover Page


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 4:
The Poverty Years: 1942 - 1956
National Park Service Arrowhead


January 27, 1956

Mr. President and Members of the Cabinet: thank you for giving us this opportunity to report on the National Parks, and to discuss plans for their future.

As you know, these are the areas where the Nation preserves its irreplaceable treasures in lands, scenery—and its historic sites—to be used for the benefit and enjoyment of the people, and passed on unimpaired to future generations. The areas of the National Park System are among the most important vacation lands of the American people. Today, people flock to the parks in such numbers that it is increasingly difficult for them to get the benefits which parks ought to provide, or for us to preserve these benefits for Americans of tomorrow.

This is why the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service have surveyed the parks and their problems, and propose to embark upon MISSION 66—a program designed to place the national parks in condition to serve America and Americans, today and in the future.

National Parks are an American idea—Yellowstone became the first national park in the world when it was established during the administration of President U.S. Grant. Other parks, monuments, and historic sites have been added—each located for you on this map— until today there are 181 areas, widely scattered throughout the States and Territories. The national parks have become a real part of the American way of life, as attested by the phenomenal increase in their popularity.

But the intangible benefits of refreshment, understanding, and inspiration are not the only dividends. The national parks contribute substantially to the economic life of the Nation. With working hours going down and leisure time going up, vacation travel and vacation spending are, in fact, among the three biggest industries in the States pictured on this map. National park travel—as Estes Park Village Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park—suggests—benefits innumerable large and small enterprises throughout the Nation. The more the parks are used for their inherent, cultural, and recreational values, the more they contribute to the economy of the Nation. Here is one resource that earns its greatest human and economic profits the less it is used up.

The problem of today is simply that the parks are being loved to death. They are neither equipped nor staffed to protect their irreplaceable resources, nor to take care of their increasing millions of visitors.

Here is the attendance picture—358 thousand visitors in 1916— 21 million in 1941—50 million last year—and by 1966, the parks will have at least 80 million visitors. Are all of these 50 million people finding, as this family group is, the unspoiled refreshment they seek and deserve?


What we have just seen is a plant operating at 200% capacity. How long would a business concern continue to operate its plant at a 100% overload? If it is to stay in business, it must plan and develop for the demand ahead. We must design to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. That is exactly what MISSION 66 will do. Fortunately, the problems of today can be solved without undue difficulty, without prolonged disruption of public use, and at surprising low cost, if handled on a long-range, one-package basis. By a one-package program I mean simply bringing each part of the program along together, so that when we build a road, the lodges, campgrounds, public use buildings, utility systems and the other things the road leads to will be ready for use at the same time, and, so that the parks will be staffed to meet their responsibilities to the visitor.

Now, specifically, what are the needs today, and how will MISSION 66 meet these needs? There is no point cataloguing every project, but let me give you enough examples to give you the broad picture of the things which MISSION 66 will accomplish: The most obvious is: modern accommodations so that the park visitor can be assured— as this couple was not—of a comfortable place to stay. Much of what we have is out-worn and outmoded, and will be replaced as we double total capacity. We will encourage private business to build more accommodations in the gateway communities near the parks.

Within the parks, we shall encourage greater participation by private enterprise, as illustrated by the new Jackson Lake Lodge in the Tetons. This encouragement will take two forms: Loan guarantees, such as now given to other enterprises through the Small Business Administration, should be extended to some of the smaller concessioners. But, the best encouragement the National Park Service can give is to go forward with its own part of the park development. For example, the Yellowstone Park Company is now ready to build 12 million dollars worth of new accommodations, but must wait until the Government installs utilities at a cost of 4-1/2 million dollars. We have to do our part before the park concessioners can go ahead.

Not all park visitors sleep under a roof. Americans heading for the wide-open spaces are justifiably frustrated when they find themselves intruded upon by the very crowds they intended to leave behind. Campground capacity will be doubled, so that this will be the typical camping picture. Picnic areas will be expanded.

But places to eat and to sleep comprise only a part of what it takes to run a park—many of the other necessary facilities are pitifully inadequate. Public use buildings, ranger stations, fire lookouts, and repair and storage buildings, and other facilities necessary for a complete park operation will be provided. Many of our employees live in shacks—eyesores that shame the Government, mar the scenery, and sap employee morale. Adequate employee housing will be supplied—its upkeep and replacement paid back through rentals. Narrow and dangerous roads must be modernized for safety, and to improve the flow of traffic; trails improved, and the presently authorized National Parkways—essentially completed.

MISSION 66 will give us an adequate staff, to protect the parks against forest fire and other dangers, to maintain the roads and buildings, operate the utility systems, and to serve the visiting public. This is a very important need, for while park attendance has increased from 21 million in 1941 to 50 million today, our field staff has actually decreased in term of man-years of employment.

Today some parks are checkerboarded with unsightly private inholdings—land parcels standing in the way of planned development and use. These should be acquired.

Right along with our own improvement, one of our major goals is the parallel development of County and State parks, Wildlife Refuges, Indian Reservations, National and State Forests, Public lands and Recreation Areas, so that each level of Government and private enterprise, will share its appropriate part of the expanding recreational use load.

These are the pressing needs today—the things MISSION 66 will accomplish—so that the American people can enjoy, in the best sense, their national parks. To put the National Parks in shape is an investment in the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of Americans as individuals. It is a gainful investment contributing substantially to the national economy, as I have mentioned. It is an investment in good citizenship.

Where else do so many Americans under the most pleasant circumstances come face to face with their Government? Where else but on historic ground can they better renew the idealism that prompted the patriots to their deeds of valor? Where else but in the great out-of-doors as God made it can we better recapture the spirit and something of the qualities of the pioneers? Pride in their Government, love of the land, and faith in the American Tradition—these are the real products of our national parks.


And here, gentlemen, are the costs outlined on this chart. As it now stands, the authorized budget for the National Park System for Fiscal Year 1957 totals 62 million, 888 thousand dollars. If we continue to operate at the present scale, the national parks will cost 628 million, 880 thousand dollars over the next ten year period—represented on this chart by the area in green. The yellow represents what MISSION 66 adds to present costs—154 million, 315 thousand, 6 hundred dollars in ten years—the entire one-package 10 year program.

In total new money, gentlemen, MISSION 66 represents a 10 year investment of less than 1/4 the cost of the Grand Coulee Dam. It seems a small amount to devote to the preservation of this national heritage for the use of the people. This is a program pared down to the essentials, and to the essentials only. If adequately financed, most of the MISSION 66—starting this year—can be carried out under present authority. As the program goes forward, additional legislation may be needed. This will be submitted for normal clearance through the Bureau of the Budget, as the need arises.

National Park Service Archives, Harpers Perry, General Collection Box A8213, Folder entitled, "Cabinet Meeting, Mission 66 Presentation, January 27, 1956."

NEXT>Chapter 5: Questions of Resource Management, 1957 - 1963


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

National Park Service's ParkNet Home