National Park Service: Presenting Nature (Chapter 5)

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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The development of a national park or a national monument requires no specific magic. It is like any other job of planning the use of land for human enjoyment. It is necessary to know the land involved thoroughly, to know how people are to use it, and about how many will use it at one time. That information should state the problem; however, it is too frequently incomplete. Next, it is necessary to work out a design, that is satisfactory to those in authority. Then to make it a reality, all that is needed is to finance and build.

—Thomas Vint, "Master Plans," 1946

The 1918 statement of policy of the National Park Service called for planning before design and construction. The early development schemes and the town plans for Yosemite Valley and Grand Canyon Village were efforts to fulfill this requirement. In 1925, however, the National Park Service began to give serious attention to comprehensive park planning that coordinated the development of roads and trails with the development of park villages, ranger stations, and maintenance areas. For the first time, planning was applied to the park as a cohesive unit with interconnecting circulation systems and designated areas to serve administrative and other needs. The impetus for planning came from the increased funds for roads and trails and the need to schedule projects over a five-year period. In 1925, Daniel Hull, then the park service's chief landscape engineer, began working with Mount Rainier's superintendent to plan for the park's future and coordinate the development of much-needed roads and trails with a vision for opening additional areas of the mountain to visitors. At the superintendents' conference that year, superintendents were directed to draw up five-year plans to meet the future needs of their parks. [1]

The park superintendents initiated the plans, working closely with Hull and Thomas Vint. The first plans outlined five-year programs for the expansion and improvement of developed areas of the parks, such as administrative centers and park villages. Park superintendents drew up separate plans for road and trail construction, which was being funded on a larger scale and was phased in over several years.

The first five-year plan was developed for Mount Rainier National Park and was submitted to Director Stephen Mather in September 1926. A plan for Crater Lake was developed in 1927. These plans listed the existing facilities alongside an itemized list of improvements needed within a five-year period. Although most improvements called for the construction of buildings such as sheds, comfort stations, or residences, a number called for extensions to campgrounds and landscape improvements. For example, the 1927 Crater Lake plan called for a dustless promenade with rustic seats to be laid along the rim from the lodge to the Rim Road and for nineteen "picturesque" stone troughs and drinking fountains to be placed along park roads and trails. [2]

Park superintendents could use these plans to develop a strategy for meeting the demands of increasing visitation over a period of five years and to justify requests to fund improvements and new construction. The five-year plans enabled the park superintendent to identify the areas within the park requiring development for various purposes, such as ranger stations, "village" services, maintenance, park administration, educational facilities, fire protection, and shelter for hikers in remote areas. These were plotted in relationship to existing and proposed roads and trails within the park and to approach roads outside. Furthermore, the plans enabled the superintendent to coordinate the administrative needs of the park with the concessionaire's services.

The superintendents' concerns in the planning process were numerous: the location of park facilities; the function and form of park structures; the circulation of traffic to the park and to key points within the park through roads, trails, and in some cases, railroad; the provision of safe access to points of scenic beauty and outstanding natural features; the management and protection of the park through patrol trails, patrol cabins, fire roads, fire equipment, and fire lookouts; maintenance facilities; and the comfort of visitors, primarily through concessionaire's services such as food, lodging, and gas. These concerns could easily come into conflict with the goal of preserving the parks' natural character. Ever present, therefore, was the concern that the park landscape be left unimpaired and that the service's dual mission be upheld.

Planning required accurate and current information. At the request of park superintendents, the service's civil engineers carried out surveys and made updated topographic maps that recorded not only natural features, contours, waterways, and existing structures, but also important trees and rock formations.

Although park planning was viewed primarily as the responsibility of the Landscape Division, it involved coordination with a number of programs. Coordination with the Engineering Division entailed receiving accurate topographic information and also working out the details for water, electricity, sewerage, and telephone systems and for minor roads to serve the developed areas. As programs for interpretation expanded through the development of museums, exhibits, nature gardens, and trails, the Landscape Division began to cooperate with the Educational Division and Herbert Maier, the principal architect for the museums being funded through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation. As concern for the protection of park forests increased, collaboration became necessary between the Forestry Division and the Landscape Division. The need to build safe systems for sewage and garbage disposal involved the Sanitation Division.

As more money became available and planners realized the diverse kinds of facilities that were needed, they discovered that they required a stronger planning process than that provided by the five-year plans. They needed a process that simultaneously solved the immediate pressing problems of park management and called for long-range vision. They required plans that viewed the park holistically in terms of geography, visitation, and landscape protection, all in relation to the service's many developing programs: fire control, interpretation and natural history, and engineering. Engineering was particularly important since it provided the infrastructure of essential utilities such as sanitation, water, sewerage, power, and communications. Plans needed to foresee the cumulative impact that small-scale improvements would have over time. As the number of park visitors grew on the one hand and the number of parks increased on the other, the direct involvement of the park service director and the chief landscape architect diminished. A formal system for planning, design, and review was imperative. Under Thomas Vint's leadership, therefore, the five-year plans evolved into a program of comprehensive planning that coordinated the service's growing programs and brought together the divergent interests of landscape preservation and park development into a single, fully orchestrated vision for the future.

Continued >>>

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

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