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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 7:
Transformation and Expansion, 1970-1980
National Park Service Arrowhead


Report of a Task Force Assembled by the Conservation Foundation as Part of Its National Parks for the Future Project, 1972
Joseph W. Penfold, Chairman, Stanley A. Cain,
Richard A. Estep, Brock Evans, Roderick Nash,
Douglas Schwartz, Patricia Young


A group of explorers a century ago, sitting. around their campfire at Madison Junction in northwestern Wyoming, could hardly have foreseen the vigor of the idea that sprang from their conversation about the Yellowstone country. They could not have anticipated that their idea would flower into a new dimension of the American dream and would capture the imagination of men around the world.

The national park concept, conceived at Madison Junction and given birth by the President of the United States 100 years ago, has been nurtured in the very essence of the democratic principle. This concept, first enunciated for Yellowstone, says that some areas of remarkable value are too special, too precious ever to be reduced to private ownership and exploitation, but that those areas should instead be retained for the enjoyment and inspiration of all the people.

Yet, over the decades, the concept has come under assault at Yellowstone and elsewhere because of the democratic principle—if the asset is publicly owned, it should be accessible and useable by all the people. Certainly, those who first held the Yellowstone Park vision could not have anticipated the practical difficulties of park use a hundred years later—difficulties brought on by an exploding population, new forms of transportation, and new wealth and leisure made available through the hard labor of a people dedicated to conquering and subverting the wilderness.

With the end of World War II, a booming economy, greater mobility, and longer vacations combined to power a move to the outdoors such as America had never experienced before. Restraints heretofore imposed by geography, time, distance and cost were, for the most part, swept aside and with them the original simple principle from which the national park ideal was born. The national park visit became a casual thing—of little more significance to many than a visit to any other place that provides a scenic backdrop for everyone's outdoor thing. Appreciated? Of course, in some way—one of a dozen vacation stops, one more decal on the window, one more place for later comparison as to efficiency of trailer hook-up, quality of cafeteria, variety of souvenirs and congestion of highway and campground. The national park was fast becoming a playground, a bland experience little different from what the visitor can and does find at a thousand other areas.

The visitor has almost lost something else of enormous importance, a crucial ingredient of the democratic ideal—the opportunity for choice. He is in danger of losing the opportunity to choose the remarkable experience which the national parks were established to save for him, because it is in danger of disappearing.

But the opportunity has not been wholly lost. There remains a spark of the original concept. More and more people are leaving the gadgetry and comforts of technology and striking out for the wilderness to find solitude and adventure with what they can carry on their backs. There in the backcountry of our natural area parks the wilderness persists, little changed in a century. There man can find and be a partner once again in the elementary processes of an undisturbed ecosystem and recapture the awe, the spiritual exaltation, the acute awareness of the very roots of life from which he sprang. The basic choice remains with us—whether we circle back to the original concept, or permit further spin-off into stultifying mediocrity. The choice is ours, whether the parks shall remain the "crown jewels" of our outdoor heritage to be cherished, protected, preserved and worthy of our rigorous self-imposed restraints, or permitted to degenerate into the commonplace.

It is a difficult choice, but it must be made. And nobody else can make it. The choice is ours alone.


  1. Management of national parks must conform to their dominant values. Basically, this means that recreation in and enjoyment of the parks must be in terms of their preservation function, that preservation of remaining wilderness should be given top priority in all policy decisions, and that criteria other than numbers of visitors should be used as measurements of a national park's value to society.
  2. High priority should be given to research directed at finding the physical, ecological, and psychological carrying capacity of every unit of the National Park System. This information should be used to determine user quotas for each unit, but care should be taken that a quota system does not discriminate against certain segments of society. The National Park Service should give concentrated attention to educating the public about the meaning of carrying capacity and a need for quota system.
  3. The park visitor should be encouraged to get away from the sight, sound and smell of mechanized civilization—and to hike and camp in the backcountry.
  4. Hotel-type accommodations, private automobiles, and car-camping should be phased out of national park units.
  5. The National Park Service should seek to establish federally financed scientific and social research units on the nation's campuses. A citizens' organization, Friends of Park Research, should be formed to support an expanded research effort.
  6. Expanded attention to the National Park Service's historical and archaeological programs is required. An accelerated research effort is a priority item, as is use of the Wilderness Act of 1964 to protect archaeological sites.
  7. The National Park Service should work toward the elimination of private ownership of buildings and facilities by concessionaires as a preliminary step to moving all such facilities outside the parks.
  8. National park boundaries should, wherever possible, include entire ecosystems. Neighboring political jurisdictions should be encouraged to conduct their land planning and regulatory activities in ways which support the purposes of a park unit.

Reprint of pages one to three of the report with permission of the World Wildlife Fund.

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

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