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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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In 1932, Louis C. Cramton, special attorney to the secretary of the interior, conducted a study of the Congressional Record and all other legislative documents relating to Yellowstone National Park to determine what Congress, in establishing the park system, intended the national parks to be and what policies it expected would govern the parks. Formerly a member of Congress and chairman of the Interior Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Cramton had been instrumental in building the financial structure of the national park system. Albright believed Cramton's contributions were second in importance only to the great achievements of Stephen Mather in developing the fundamental organization and policies of the National Park Service. [154]

Cramton's findings resulted in a statement of policy that was published in the 1932 annual report. The statement clarified and codified the various policies that had evolved since 1916 concerning the establishment, preservation, protection, maintenance, use, and enjoyment of the national parks. First, the statement clarified the issue of criteria for national parks, stating that preservation should depend alone on the outstanding scenic, scientific, or historical quality and the resulting national interest, regardless of an area's location or proximity to population centers or the financial capacity of a state. National interest was defined as widespread interest and meant that a park should appeal to many individuals, regardless of where they lived, because of its outstanding merit.

The statement upheld the twin purposes of parks: they should be accessible to the public for enjoyment and use, and they should remain unspoiled for future generations. Toward these ends, the statement upheld the 1930 policy excluding exotic plants and wildlife from the parks and prohibited the capture of fish and game for commercial purposes and the destruction of animals except those "detrimental to the use of the parks." Timber was to be cut only when necessary to control attacks of insects and disease or to otherwise conserve the scenery or significant natural or historic objects. The removal of dead timber was allowed where it was necessary to protect or improve park forests. Laying the burden of stewardship on National Park Service officials, the policy stated, "Proper administration will retain these areas in their natural condition, sparing them the vandalism of improvement." [155]

Many aspects of park administration that had been mentioned in the 1918 statement of policy were expanded and given new emphasis. These included the role of education, the role of a civilian ranger and administrative force, the provision of tourist accommodations of various types, the provision of suitable roads and trails for safe travel, the prohibition of commercial activities other than those essential to the care and comfort of the visitor, and the prohibition of private ownership and leasing. Under the preeminent principle that national parks were established for the permanent preservation of areas and objects of national interest and were intended to exist forever, the principles of landscape protection and harmonization merged into one single concept: "Roads, buildings, and other structures necessary for park administration and for public use and comfort should intrude upon the landscape or conflict with it only to the absolute minimum." [156]

Forestry, road building, and wildlife conservation were recognized as special problems, and park administrators were called upon to define the objectives for these programs "in harmony with the fundamental purposes of the parks." In issues related to forestry, the National Park Service was to consider scenic values and the goal of preservation. In the building of roads, the service was to ensure that "the route, the type of construction, and the treatment of related objects" contributed to "the fullest accomplishment of the intended use of the area." In wildlife conservation, the "preservation of the primitive" was to be sought rather than the "development of an artificial ideal." [157]

The report also addressed the topic of recreation, which would have increasing importance in the 1930s:

Recreation, in its broadest sense, includes much of education and inspiration. Even in its narrower sense, having a good time, it is a proper incidental use. In planning for recreational use of the parks in this more restricted meaning, the development should be related to their inherent values and calculated to promote the beneficial use thereof by the people. It should not encourage exotic forms of amusement and should never permit that which conflicts with or weakens the enjoyment of these inherent values. [158]

The 1932 statement of policy has greater meaning in view of the controversies over park boundaries that had occurred at Yellowstone and elsewhere, the increasing concern that all states should have a national park, and the professionalization of the National Park Service through the development of civil service standards and examinations for ranger positions. It also broadened the scope of national parks to include historical parks and wilderness areas. It forced the realization that in many parts of the country, particularly the East, pristine undisturbed lands were not to be found and that gradual efforts might be necessary to reach permanent objectives for conservation.

On the issue of existing encroachments on lands of outstanding significance, the statement read,

When, under the general circumstances such action is feasible, even though special conditions require the continuance of limited commercial activities or of limited encroachments for local or individual benefit, an area of national-park caliber should be accorded that status now, rather than abandon it permanently to full commercial exploitation and probable destruction of its sources of national interest. Permanent objectives highly important may thus be accomplished and the compromises, undesired in principle but not greatly destructive in effect, may later be eliminated as occasion for their continuance passes. [159]

Albright applauded the study, stating that Cramton's findings reduced "to concrete form the policies of the National Park Service as they have been established by Congress in laws enacted during the past 60 years, and will be of invaluable assistance in keeping to the course mapped out by the far-sighted men who laid the foundation of our present national- park system." Coming on the eve of the New Deal, Cramton's report would serve as a blueprint for landscape preservation and stewardship during a period of unprecedented development and program expansion. [160]

Continued >>>

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

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