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Historic Roads in the National Park System





Raynold Expedition

Barlow Expedition

Jones Expedition

Ludlow Reconnaissance

Dan C. Kingman

Hiram M. Chittenden


Dan C. Kingman
Dan C. Kingman, 1852 - 1916. (U.S. Military Academy Archives)

A Legacy of Dan C. Kingman

During its first decade Yellowstone National Park existed as a "public park or pleasuring ground" only in the wording of the statute. Anyone who ventured into Yellowstone in those years had to be more explorer than tourist. Visitors encountered hostile Indians in or near the park as late as 1877, and well into the 1880's they faced crude, frequently impassable trails which could only be called roads euphemistically. Poaching and vandalism raged unchecked. And park administration was ineffectual and at times corrupt. Most of these problems stemmed from Congressional reluctance "to go into show business." The park received no funds during its first five years and only token sums thereafter.

A turning point came in 1883, when Congress entrusted park improvement to the Corps of Engineers and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to call upon the Army to patrol the area. The Secretary took no action until 1886, when at his request a cavalry troop was detailed to Yellowstone; but the Corps lost no time in assuming its new duties. The park assignment went initially to Lt. Dan C. Kingman, Engineer Officer of the Department of the Platte. Second man in the West Point class of 1875, Kingman had served with the Engineer Battalion at Willet's Point, New York, and had taught engineering at his alma mater. His performance at Yellowstone reflected superior abilities that would, in time, win him the coveted post of Chief of Engineers.

When Kingman arrived at the park in the summer of 1883, he found 160 miles of primitive unlinked roads — narrow, crooked, hilly, and poorly drained, "all very bad." During his three-year tour, he successfully launched a program of permanent construction completing thirty miles of solid, durable roads, no mean feat in such formidable terrain. But his big achievement was not in building but in master planning. His major contribution was the concept for the Grand Loop, the present system of beltline scenic roads, which he designed to enable "tourists to visit the principal points of interest in the Park without retracing their steps; and to take a long or short trip, according to the time and means at their disposal." A true conservationist, he based his plan "upon the supposition, and in the earnest hope, that [the land] will be preserved as nearly . . . as nature left it — a source of pleasure to all who visit it, and a source of wealth to no one."

Kingman made no formal report of his Yellowstone endeavors but he did leave behind a sheaf of notes, extracts of which his successor, Capt. Clinton B. Sears, included in his own report for 1887. Kingman's notes clearly showed his sincere attachment to the park, his horror at the thought that it might become "a sort of Coney Island," and his opposition to building unnecessary roads and bridges and to routing a railroad through the park. In all of his efforts, Kingman viewed preservation of the park as "of more than national importance." Yellowstone, he believed, was "an object of direct and personal interest, now and in times to come, to travelers and scientists the world over."

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