On-line Book

Book Cover
Presenting Nature








Design Ethic Origins

Design Policy & Process

Western Field Office

Park Planning

Decade of Expansion

State Parks

Appendix A

Appendix B


Presenting Nature:
The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916-1942
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Here commences a long walk, which is the favorite morning ramble of guests. Deeply shaded, winding along the thickly wooded bank, with the refreshing sound of the tide-waves gently dashing against the rocky shores below, or expending themselves on the beach of gray gravel, it curves along the bank for a great distance. Sometimes overhanging cliffs, crested with pines, frown darkly over it; sometimes thick tufts of fern and mossy carpeted rocks border it, while at various points, vistas or long reaches of the beautiful river scenery burst upon the eye. Half way along this morning ramble, a rustic seat, placed on a bold little plateau, at the base of a large tree, eighty feet above the water, and fenced about with a rustic barrier, invites you to linger and gaze at the fascinating river landscape here presented. It embraces the distant mountains, a sylvan foreground, and the broad river stretching away for miles, sprinkled with white sails. The coup-d'oeil is heightened by its being seen through a dark framework of thick leaves and branches as much as the eye can enjoy or revel in, without change of position.

— Andrew Jackson Downing, "A Visit to Montgomery Place," 1847

The historic development of national parks drew from the mainstream principles and practices of the American landscape design profession. To meet the challenge of subordinating development to natural character and scenic values, park designers adopted naturalistic and informal practices of landscape design with roots in nineteenth-century ideas about landscape preservation and harmonization of built features. These ideas were accompanied by specific practices for accommodating development, whether roads or structures, that caused minimal disruption of natural topography and that blended manmade structures with natural surroundings.

This ethic of design, commonly referred to as rustic, applied to the treatment of the natural features of the landscape as well as to the style of structures and buildings. It drew heavily on the nineteenth-century naturalistic tradition of landscape gardening in private pleasure grounds and urban parks that valued scenic views, variations in topography, and natural features such as vegetation, streams, and rock outcroppings. This design ethic spurred a growing appreciation for and use of native materials for construction and for naturalistic plantings. It also drew from architectural styles such as the Shingle style, the Adirondack style, the Prairie style, and the vernacular forms and methods of pioneer settlers and indigenous cultures, which all used native materials of log, wood, stone, clay, or thatch and situated manmade elements in harmony with the natural topography and surroundings. All of these influences were embraced at the turn of the century by the Arts and Crafts movement, which fostered an appreciation of handcrafted forms, pioneer and indigenous prototypes, natural settings, and naturalistic appearances.

As heirs to this rich legacy, national park designers not only adopted naturalistic principles and practices but also advanced them by forging a cohesive ethic of naturalism that simultaneously applied to the design of structures, the construction of roads and trails, and the successful blending of manmade and natural features of the park. Their work was aimed at presenting the scenic beauty of the parks and enhancing the visitors' experience while preserving the natural features. The principles and practices they advanced would in turn influence the design and development of state parks in the 1930s.

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Last Modified: Mon, Oct 31, 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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