Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Nine:
New Directions and a Second Century


Public Planning: Who and Why

Between 1976 and 1987, the National Park Service succeeded in developing politically acceptable development and management plans for every major facility area in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. These plans resolved long-standing conflicts between concessioners or area boosters and preservationists. And repeatedly, involvement of the public forced decisions much more sensitive to national park values than those reached in previous decades by Park Service planners working alone without public input. In Giant Forest the planning process resulted in a recommitment to restore Sequoia National Park's best-known sequoia grove to a more natural state, an idea that had become a crusade in earlier times only to be abandoned in frustration in the 1950s. At Cedar Grove the public planning process clearly rejected the major development schemes that had haunted Kings Canyon since creation of the park. The eighteen-room lodge which finally opened in 1979 bore little resemble to the dream structures of earlier boosters and planners. In Mineral King, too, the public imposed a conservative direction on the planning process. Only at Grant Grove, in the mid-1980s, did the pattern shift. There, where nearly everyone agreed that the existing facilities had to be replaced, the Park Service successfully sold a facility enlargement scheme. However, even in that case the public exercised a conservative role, pushing for careful consideration of the impacts of enlargement and a more dispersed physical layout.

The significance of public input in the development of these plans cannot be ignored. In each case, a majority of the commenting public either supported the NPS when it took a preservationist stance, or criticized the Service when it strayed. In this process, of course, everything depended not just on public input in general, but rather on who took the time to get involved. Repeatedly, it turned out, those who cared enough to do so were existing park users—those with the deepest involvement in the status quo. On the other extreme the developers and boosters, who had played such a major role in the early days of both parks, often perceived themselves so far outside the planning process that they ceased to comment at all. To the extent that this happened, the new plans incorporated a fundamental bias toward limited use. But in the larger sense the plans also reflected the protective instincts of a substantial portion of the general public toward the national parks. By 1980 fewer and fewer Americans still believed that growth could occur without costs, and nowhere was the citizenry less inclined to accept those costs than in their federal parklands.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap9e.htm — 12-Jul-2004