Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


Walter Fry and Civilian Parks' Administration

While the U.S. Forest Service defined the purposes and goals of Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia and General Grant national parks continued along a separate path, still guided by the legislation of 1890. Troops continued to arrive each summer through 1913 to guard the parks and supplement the corps of permanent park rangers. During that last summer of military supervision 3,823 persons entered Sequoia National Park. Of these, 41 percent went up the Giant Forest Road while another 22 percent entered via the Mineral King Road. Statistics show the state of park transportation: 50 percent of all park visitors entered on horse-drawn wagons, 24 percent on horseback, 10 percent on foot, and 6 percent in an automobile, the park having been opened to motor vehicles for the first time that year. During the same summer, General Grant National Park received 2,756 visitors. [76]

The army's departure came as no surprise. Ever since the appointment of permanent civilian rangers, military officers as signed to the parks had recommended initiation of a completely civilian parks administration. By the spring of 1914, with the Mexican Revolution in full swing and the condition of the two parks fully regularized, it made sense to make the change. As the first full superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant national parks (all the military officers had served only as "acting" superintendents), the secretary of interior appointed Walter Fry, a ranger and long time Three Rivers resident who had been associated with the parks in one capacity or another since 1901.

Born in Illinois in 1859, Fry first heard of the Tulare County's Big Trees and giant lake while a youth of ten in Kansas. The stories he heard about the faraway place fascinated him, and in 1887, after a series of setbacks, he resolved to come west and try his luck in the land of the Big Trees. Fry brought his family to Tulare County in March of that year, and for much of the next decade he worked in and around the city of Tulare, ten miles south of Visalia. His first exposure to the sequoias came during these years when he worked for a month as a tree feller for the Smith Comstock Sawmill near General Grant. When Fry discovered through counting its annual rings that one large tree he had helped destroy was at least 3,266 years old, he quit logging forever. Soon after this adventure Fry met Hale Tharp in Visalia and learned of the Giant Forest. His first visit to this finest of sequoia groves changed his life. Fry's name was a prominent third on the 1890 petition from Tulare supporting creation of national parks in the Tulare County mountains. In 1895 he relocated his family to a ranch three miles east of Three Rivers, close to the boundary of Sequoia National Park. In 1901 Fry obtained work on the army's Giant Forest road crew, and during the next few years he moved into the ranger ranks and finally to the position of chief ranger. When the army left, he was the logical person to take charge of the two parks. In his first summer as superintendent, Fry supervised a staff of three permanent and eight seasonal rangers in Sequoia and one full-time ranger at General Grant.

For nearly a quarter century the United States Cavalry administered Sequoia National Park. (National Park Service photo)

Like all the other national park superintendents, Fry reported directly to the secretary of interior, a system that was growing more cumbersome as the number of national parks continued to grow. [77] A result of this casual organization was a considerable degree of policy variation within the parks, a situation that appeared increasingly unsatisfactory in contrast to the efficient consistency of the U.S. Forest Service. The creation of separate systems for national parks and national forests had occurred accidentally, mainly because Pinchot's Forest Service, with its utilitarian philosophies, found itself responsible for the forests, but not the parks. Pinchot and his organization would have liked to merge the two systems, and Forest Service officials inspected Sequoia and General Grant national parks with that thought in mind. That this did not occur, however, is the result of efforts by a group of men who were troubled by the management direction of the user and development-oriented Forest Service. Californians who knew the Sierra and the Sierran national parks played a critical role in this effort, including Interior Secretary Franklin Lane, a University of California graduate; Stephen T. Mather, a fraternity brother of Lane's at Berkeley; and Mather's assistant, yet another UC grad named Horace M. Albright.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4l.htm — 12-Jul-2004