Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Eight:
Controlling Development: How Much Is Too Much?


Retreat: Hard Times and Tough Questions

The postwar era began for the Park Service with a flood of optimistic enthusiasm. Park planners expected a speedy return of visitors and with them funding at prewar levels. Thousands of structures built by the CCC as well as many more built during earlier years desperately needed renovation or reconstruction. Miles of roads and trails also demanded major repairs. Most postwar park planners hoped for a return of CCC type work camps from which they could draw labor to continue the parks' progress. It was time to get on with plans and dreams, time to reevaluate park resources, redesign facilities, and redouble efforts to make each visitor's experience educational and fulfilling. [1]

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, the staff shared this service-wide optimism. Cedar Grove promised to be a new and exciting area to develop, a second Yosemite Valley. Giant Forest might finally be freed from its half century of crowds and clutter to become again the spiritually and emotionally uplifting reserve park planners knew it could be. Elaborate remodeling of structures at Grant Grove, Lodgepole, and Ash Mountain awaited attention, as did hundreds of miles of winter-ravaged backcountry trails. Along with all this development, Colonel White and his successor Eivind Scoyen hoped to reassess park management and study the problems of resource use and concomitant preservation.

To the dismay of the Park Service, its allies in the preservation movement, and such public as visited and used the parks, these hopes were dashed for more than a decade after the war. Although the number of visitors to the park system rose more than 250 percent between 1940 and 1955, funding lagged far behind with an increase of only 56 percent. [2] All over the nation superintendents reported decaying structures, potholed roads, tawdry visitor displays, and gross understaffing of popular areas. Laws and regulations went unenforced in backcountry areas. Virtually all acquisition of inholdings ceased, as did negotiations for elimination of grazing permits. By 1955, noted historian and popular author Bernard De Voto penned an article in Harpers calling for a drastic solution to these problems. Specifically, he suggested closing some of the larger parks because "they have the largest staffs in the system but neither those staffs nor the budgets allotted them are large enough to maintain the areas at a proper level of safety, attractiveness, comfort, or efficiency. They are unable to do the job in full and so it had better not be attempted at all." [3]

Back in the two Sierran parks, the problems of insufficient funds and manpower were keenly felt. Over the decade and a half after 1940, annual visitation rose from 483,743 to 1,074,134 or 122 percent, but funding failed to increase even half that percentage. Colonel White complained in 1947:

Despite our best efforts, our public camps are run down, our scenic spots improperly protected, our park buildings and all facilities inadequately maintained, and the public neither protected nor advised, or educated, as should be possible in these great heritages and builders of national pride and morale. [4]

His successor, Superintendent Scoyen, reiterated such sentiments in succeeding years and added that a doubling of appropriations would not overcome the years of neglect.

One example of the irksome effects of diminished funding occurred with the road from Cedar Grove to Copper Creek. Even as San Joaquin Valley newspapers reported a promised completion time of late 1948, actual construction bogged down due to paltry funding and contractor problems. By 1952, annoyed Fresno citizens demanded that the Park Service fulfill its promise. Yet four years later, the winter of 1955/56 brought flood damage to a still incomplete road. Work on a bridge over the Kings River dragged into late 1956, and six months later the contractor suffered bankruptcy. Finally, in September 1957, the road was completed ending a decade of frustration and confusion arising from what had begun as a relatively simple one-year project. [5]

Elsewhere in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, conditions were equally worrisome. Giant Forest and other visitor areas suffered from overuse and a lack of vegetative regeneration. The replanting program and the Ash Mountain Nursery had been early casualties of wartime and postwar funding cuts. Crying for repair were tumbled-down visitor contact stations, dirty and undersized amphitheaters, and campgrounds sporting tire-damaged sites, wrecked camp facilities, and nearly denuded forests. In the backcountry some trails became impassible; meadows turned to muddy bogs as a few overtaxed work crews and rangers tried to care for more than 1,100 square miles of territory. Park employees, many of them recent veterans of World War II and Korea, crammed into grubby and substandard tent cabins. [6]


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap8a.htm — 12-Jul-2004