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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 8:
A System Threatened, 1981 - 1992
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July 6, 1981

To: Director, National Park Service
From: Secretary of the Interior
Subject: Management of the National Park System

Since the National Park Service was established, certain of my predecessors, beginning with Secretary Franklin K. Lane, have outlined the principles which are to guide the Service in the management of the National Park System. I believe that now is a particularly appropriate time, as the Nation enters the 1980's under new leadership and in high expectation of constructive change, to renew that practice.

In his letter of May 13, 1918, to Stephen T. Mather, first Director of the National Park Service, Secretary Lane wrote,

For the information of the public an outline of the administrative policy to which the new Service will adhere may now be announced. This policy is based on three broad principles: First, that the national parks must be maintained in absolutely unimpaired form for the use of future generations as well as those of our own time; second, that they are set apart for the use, observation, health, and pleasure of the people;and third, that the national interest must dictate all decisions affecting public or private enterprise in the parks.

The principles outlined for the first Director of the Service more than 60 years ago apply with equal force to the management of the National Park System today, and I reaffirm them wholeheartedly. Moreover, the Congress, as the maker of public land policy, has consistently supported these broad principles through the enactment of various laws, capped by the language of the Act of August 18, 1970, as amended:

Congress further reaffirms, declares, and directs that the promotion and regulation of the various areas of the National Park System . . . shall be consistent with and founded in the purpose established by the first section of the Act of August 25, 1916, to the common benefit of all the people of the United States. The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these areas shall be conducted in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress.

I commend to every employee of the National Park Service a rereading of the first section of the Act of August 25, 1916, which set forth the fundamental purpose of parks: ". . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." No agency in Government has a clearer mandate.

I am concerned that in recent years the funding and manpower resources of the Service have not always been directed to fulfilling its basic mission as set forth above. The challenge to the Service in the 1980's, and my charge to you as Director, is to assure that the funding and staffing available to you in a time of reduced Federal expenditures are applied to achieve the most benefit for visitors to the most heavily visited parks, being always mindful of the preservation of park resources. I am particularly concerned that you give priority to protecting and maintaining the "crown jewels," the internationally known, unique natural parks in the system.

Two recent developments have provided the Service with the opportunity to reemphasize its basic responsibilities. First, the "State of the Parks" analysis begun in 1980 should continue, and actions vigorously pursued to monitor, prevent, or mitigate significant threats. Second, the deteriorating condition of physical facilities has been addressed by the additional funds for maintenance provided by Congress in the FY 1981 budget. The Service must put in place the management systems necessary to follow up on these Congressional initiatives in order that the public gets the highest return on its park dollar. It is timely to develop a long-range plan of funding and personnel requirements, so that the National Park System may be developed and operated to meet acceptable standards. You should begin immediately to explore the components of such a long-range plan.

As Director, you should emphasize management of the National Park System. At this time, the attention of all managers within the System needs to be specifically directed to achieving efficiency, serving visitors, and protecting park values, rather than expanding the System. Special emphasis should be placed on bringing the old-line parks up to standard.

The National Park Service is in a unique position to serve people. as such, it is one of the few Federal agencies whose personnel have the opportunity of meeting their true bosses, the thousands of visitors, each of whom has spent considerable time and money just to be in a park. The Service has a tradition of providing a high standard of service to the visitor, and this standard must be maintained. At a time when most families' budgets are being increasingly squeezed, the opportunity of a park visit becomes even more special. Courtesy, patience, and helpfulness on the part of park employees will assure visitors that yours is an organization that lives up to its name, as a Service. As Director, you should ensure that you recruit men and women who like people for those front-line positions where service to the visitor is immediate and direct.

For those visitors who take the opportunity to stay in lodges, rent bicycles or horses, and purchase food and equipment while in the parks, the concessioner is essential to the park experience. Concession operators are partners with the National Park Service in serving people. A successful partnership is based on mutual support and mutual responsibility. Park managers must appreciate the need for the operator to make a reasonable profit, and concession operators need to be aware of the statutory mandate of the Service to protect park resources for people. Both the Service and the concessioners are, above all, responsible for assuring the park visitor an opportunity to use safe, high quality facilities at a reasonable cost. Where, because of deterioration over long periods, this standard is not being met, I believe you should explore with the concessioners alternative ways to find the needed capital and upgrade those facilities that are necessary for the visitor.

In summary, let us get back to the basics. Let us protect the land and its resources. Let us serve the visitor. I am confident that the Service can and will, through professional, innovative, and accountable management, fulfill its statutory mandate, and I pledge my support to that end.

James G. Watt
Personal files of National Park Service Bureau Historian Barry Mackintosh.

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