An Administrative History
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In May 1980, Roger Reisch, who began working at Guadalupe Mountains in 1964, addressed a training session for the park's seasonal employees. Speaking from personal observation, he succinctly summarized the workings and history of the park: "Nothing goes very fast."

Historical research has confirmed Reisch's observations. People first began advocating a park in the southern Guadalupe Mountains in 1925. More than forty years later, in 1966, Congress finally authorized such a park. The park could not be established, however, until mineral rights to the land had been donated and the surface rights purchased. Those processes took another six years, ending in the establishment of the park in 1972. The land acquired for the park had virtually no existing facilities that were appropriate for visitor or administrative use, but suitable facilities could not be constructed until detailed plans had been completed and approved. Six more years, which were filled with controversy, passed before the plans were complete. Compared with the time required to establish and plan the park, development of most of the planned facilities took place in a relatively short three-year period, from early in 1980 through 1982. However, the main visitor center for the park was not among the facilities built during that period. Funding limitations for the visitor center necessitated design changes and delayed construction of that facility until 1988.

Why did everything take so long? During an interview in 1987, John Cook, Regional Director of the Southwest Region, suggested that personalities, timing, and national politics had been the most decisive factors affecting development of the park, particularly the visitor center. With slight modifications, Cook's factors also may be applied to the longer view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park and used to explain why it took so long to reach the point of development achieved by 1988.

In the 1920s and 1930s the dynamic personalities needed to press the park issue were present, but state and national politics were wrong. The enthusiastic support of men like J. C. Hunter and E. H. Simons fell on deaf ears in the Texas legislature. Within the Park Service, Ben Thompson and Roger Toll, advocates of a park in the southern Guadalupes, knew that the land for all other national parks had been taken from the public domain or had been donated by the states or private philanthropists. They realized Congress was unlikely to appropriate money to purchase private land to create a national park. The inability or unwillingness of the State of Texas to purchase the land severely limited the chances for establishment of a park.

World War II, followed by post-war efforts to rehabilitate the existing system of national parks, prohibited serious consideration of establishing a new park in the Guadalupe Mountains during the 1940s and 1950s. At the end of the 1950s, however, personalities once again entered the picture. Wallace Pratt's donation of his land in McKittrick Canyon and his subsequent advocacy of acquisition of J. C. Hunter, Jr.'s, land rekindled interest in establishing a major park. In 1961, when Congress approved the Cape Cod National Seashore, it established the precedent of appropriating money to purchase land for a park and removed one of the earlier barriers to a park in the Guadalupes. The aggressive work of Texas Representatives Joe Pool and Richard White and Senator Ralph Yarborough combined with large-scale local interest in the park project to bring about Congressional authorization of the park.

Politics, economics, and personalities affected the time required for acquisition of the surface and mineral rights to the park lands. Politics and economics determined that the mineral rights should be donated as well as the timing and amount of funds that were appropriated for land acquisition. Personalities--the owners of surface and mineral rights who did not wish to give up their property--further delayed the acquisition process.

After establishment of the park, national politics and timing became especially important. The park was established at a time when national values were shifting. Plans that would have been accepted easily a decade earlier met with strong opposition and had to be revised, lengthening the planning process for the park. Finally, in the period when development began to occur, the park did not have the strong support it needed in Congress to get its projects funded. Park managers soon realized this problem and sought to cultivate the support of Representative Ronald Coleman, who was the political personality ultimately responsible for obtaining funding for the visitor center.

During the time from 1925 to 1988, ideas of what the park should offer to the public changed dramatically. Advocates of a parkway between Pine Springs and Carlsbad Caverns, which would have permitted visitors to enjoy the spectacular views afforded by the escarpment from the comfort of their automobiles, gave way to the advocates of wilderness preservation. Instead of a parkway, park planners designed footpaths and horse trails. Hikers willing to carry their own water and provisions replaced tramway riders as the target clientele for the park.

Although the level of development achieved by 1988 had come slowly and park personnel had made do with makeshift and temporary facilities for over a decade, by 1988 the park had reached a point that could be called mature. It had assumed the form and substance that planners had intended and had become a park of which Wallace Pratt and the Hunters undoubtedly would have approved.


Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001