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A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States





Supplemental Foreword


Recreational Habits and Needs

Aspects of Recreational Planning

Present Public Outdoor Recreational Facilities




A Park and Recreational Land Plan

A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States
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Central Park
Figure 48.—Central Park, New York City.

A Park and Recreational Land Plan for the United States


In this section we propose to indicate what provision of lands and waters is required in order to meet adequately the recreational requirements of the American people—a provision which at the same time will give full and fair consideration to all other land-use needs. It sets forth a plan, the consummation of which, under the American form of government, cannot rest upon a single agency but instead will require the combined and coordinated efforts of all agencies, at all levels of government, which deal with any phase of recreation. It includes a brief discussion of the part the several agencies and levels of government may properly be expected to play in effectuating this plan.

1. Every element and all types of population need areas and facilities for outdoor recreation. There is a paramount need, however, for public recreational areas, of all obtainable types and providing for a wide range of beneficial activities, within easy reach of all urban populations. Theirs is a daily life, lived among man-reared walls, man-built streets, objectionable noises and smells, and, for a large percentage of them, in poor housing. To provide what they need for frequent use requires:

(a) Neighborhood playgrounds within easy walking distance (not more than a quarter of a mile) of all children.

(b) Playfields and neighborhood centers within half a mile to a mile of all citizens.

(c) Parks, or other areas characterized by natural or man-made beauty, sufficient in extent so that wear and tear will not be such as to render the cost of maintenance of their attractive features prohibitive, and sufficient in number and so distributed that all citizens, no matter how poor, may enjoy them at least occasionally. The limit of distance for areas of this type probably should not exceed two miles.

(d) Protection of urban and suburban streams and other waters from pollution and "uglifying" uses; provision of points of access and facilities for use in such places and of such extent as prospective use will justify.

(e) Parkways along waterways and to connect major units of the recreational-area system.

2. For holiday and week-end use by city folk and by those who live in thickly populated or intensively cultivated rural sections, there is need of public recreational areas where picnicking, water sports, day and overnight camping, hiking, and other related activities may be enjoyed, and which are sufficiently large to provide those who use them a sense of freedom and of separation from crowds. At least one such area should be within 25 miles of those for whom they are chiefly provided. A distance even less than that will assure greater use by those for whom transportation is a difficult problem.

3. Because of the highly artificial conditions under which city dwellers are forced to live, the pressure for adequate recreational facilities is exerted primarily in their behalf. Yet there can be no denying that the 43.8 percent of the population of the United States which the census of 1930 classed as rural have recreational needs which must be met, at least partly, by land and facilities publicly owned or freely usable by the public.

National and State parks and other related types of recreational areas are intended to attract and provide equally for all elements of the population. What the rural resident chiefly needs is something roughly equivalent to the parks and playgrounds established in and near the city for the urban dweller. Generally speaking, such areas as are acquired and developed for his needs will be smaller than the general run of State parks; they will include provision for many of the activities that characterize the city playground, such as baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, badminton, horseshoes, and swimming. Of equal importance with these will be provision for group activities—picnics, musical and dramatic presentations, competitive sports, festivals, pageants, dancing—the means by which the dweller in the country may satisfy those gregarious instincts and the urge for self-expression which are given so little rein in the daily lives of millions of rural people.

4. For vacation use, by all the population, wherever resident, there are needed—

(a) Extensive public holdings in all those parts of the country characterized by forests, rugged terrain, lakes and streams, or any combination of these characteristics. In the western half of the United States, where the Federal Government's policy of retaining its remaining forest properties was adopted in time to keep much of the most spectacular mountain area from passing into private hands, most of the land required for extensive vacation uses is already in public ownership, and the problem is largely one of adjustment of use and administration so that these lands may yield the largest possible return to society. In the eastern half of the United States, which contains 70 percent of the total population, the need is very much greater, while the means of supplying it through lands now publicly owned is very much less.

Public ownership of lands, particularly by State and Federal agencies, has been rapidly extended throughout most of the region east of the Rockies during the present decade. In the more rugged sections within this region, the United States Forest Service has now acquired several million acres of land, much of it suitable for development for vacation use, and much of it developed, or under development, for such use. Most of the lands acquired by the Forest Service, however, are at such a distance from the larger cities that the mere cost of getting to them is so great as to make their use difficult or impossible for more than half of the people of the cities. Part of the rest can make fairly frequent, and the remainder at least annual, use of them, and their potential contribution to this kind of public enjoyment is considerable. Except for coastal frontage, it appears likely that in most of the States in the eastern half of the United States lands now owned by or included in the purchase program of the Forest Service, plus the holdings and proposed acquisitions of the various State conservation, park and forestry agencies, will come close to providing the lands needed for this type of use. On such properties there is need for public campgrounds, cabin colonies, group camps, and the various kinds of public resorts, allocated as to kind, extent, and location in proportion to prospective public use. In this phase of the total effort to provide adequately for desirable public recreation, it is urgently necessary to coordinate planning among the several Federal agencies and the several State agencies, in order to provide what is needed and at the same time to avoid such multiplication of locations, or facilities, or both, and duplication of planning and administrative organizations as will lay a needlessly large administrative and maintenance cost upon either the user or the general public. For any region there should be a coordinated recreational plan in which all agencies and all lands shall have their proper place as well as the individual plans prepared by each agency.

(b) As indicated, the mountainous and other wilderness and semi-wilderness properties of the Federal and State agencies referred to are usually so located that more than half the population are unable to use them. Furthermore, the urban populations of much of Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Illinois are even less advantageously located with respect to possible use of such publicly owned areas. Yet a vacation in the out-of-doors in attractive natural or naturalistic surroundings, where a reasonable variety of recreational occupation may be obtained, is desirable for all and particularly for those whose limited means normally provide only limited recreational opportunities. And while they are desirable, neither rugged terrain nor spectacular scenery is essential to the enjoyment of an outdoor vacation experience. It appears, therefore, that the most pressing problem, if this desirable and beneficial experience is to be brought within reasonably easy reach of the whole population, is to provide vacation areas close to the persons who need them and who cannot afford to seek them at a distance.

Areas of the kind needed are pretty well typified by many of the recreational demonstration areas administered by the National Park Service. These possess, generally, an interesting and occasionally exciting terrain, fair forest cover that will steadily improve under proper protection and management, and flowing waters valuable for a variety of recreational uses. They are located, as a rule, sufficiently close to urban populations so that they may be used for short or long periods by persons for whom a trip of as much as 200 miles from home represents a heavy financial outlay; they are close enough, too, so that subsidy of transportation for underprivileged individuals or groups, if provided, will represent a comparatively small expense for each individual served.

It is in areas such as these, close to using populations, that provision should be made for organized group camping, as well as for such other vacation facilities as inexpensive cabins and tent camp sites, supplemented by development of those recreational facilities and services which are needed to make a vacation an interesting, enjoyable, and beneficial experience.

It will doubtless be found possible frequently to provide on a single area not only vacation use but also the day, week-end, and holiday use for which provision is urged in Sections 1 and 2.

5. Due to the extraordinary recreational value of ocean, lake, and river frontage, both because of the opportunities it offers for a variety of physical activities and because of the "refreshment of mind and spirit" provided by combinations of land and water, the necessity of providing an adequate quantity and quality of such properties for public use cannot be over-emphasized.1 Adequate quantity may be defined as sufficient in extent to permit all necessary development without undesirable crowding, or encroachment by private enterprise. Since the wildlife associated with water margins is often of exceptional interest to the public, ample area in which to permit its protection and display will add greatly to the public value of any such holdings. Frequently beach areas are associated with a hinterland of marsh and swamp of low monetary value, but which provides the favorite habitat to a large and interesting variety of bird and animal life. Whenever possible such hinterlands should be acquired with the frontage and full protection accorded them.

1At the dedication of Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Missouri, October 10, 1938, Secretary Ickes said: "When we look up and down the ocean fronts of America, we find that everywhere they are passing behind the fences of private ownership. The people can no longer get to the ocean. When we have reached the point that a nation of 125,000,000 people cannot set foot upon the thousands of miles of beaches that border the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, except by permission of those who monopolize the ocean front, then I say that it is the prerogative and the duty of the Federal and State Governments to step in and acquire, not a swimming beach here and there, but solid blocks of ocean front hundreds of miles in length. Call this ocean front a national park, or a national seashore, or a State park, or anything you please—I say that the people have a right to a fair share of it."

It is believed that acquisition of at least ten percent of the shore line of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and of major lakes and streams would be justified by the public benefits that would result therefrom. This percentage applied to ocean and gulf frontage would provide approximately a mile of frontage for each 120,000 persons resident within 100 miles of salt water; distribution of areas should, of course, be related as directly as possible to the distribution of this tributary population, though experience has shown that ocean beaches attract heavy patronage from much greater distances than 100 miles.

6. It would appear to be generally agreed that those areas containing scenery of such distinction as does, or is certain to, attract users from considerable distances and in fair numbers, should be in public possession. "They should be characterized by scenic and recreational resources of kinds that are unlikely to be reasonably well conserved and made available for public enjoyment under private ownership, or which under private ownership are likely to be so far monopolized as to make it seriously difficult for the ordinary citizen to secure enjoyment of them, except at a cost in time and money disproportionate to the cost of providing that enjoyment"2 through areas publicly owned.

2F. L. Olmsted—California State Park Survey, 1929.

The inspirational values of exceptionally striking and beautiful scenery are great even though difficult or impossible to calculate. For that reason selection of areas that contain such scenery is justified, even though prospective attendance might, in some cases, be comparatively light.

7. On the same plane with the scenic areas are areas or structures of historic, prehistoric, or scientific significance. There is need for continued and energetic effort on the part of public agencies to assure preservation of America's heritage of historic and archeological sites and structures for the enlightenment and inspiration of her people. As is recognized by the Historic Sites Act of 1935, such action does not necessarily involve immediate or even eventual public ownership, but may be accomplished in many cases without disturbing private or semipublic owners.

8. For special recreational uses, six additional types of development suggest themselves as important in rounding out and completing our State and Federal recreational systems. These are:

(a) Parkways. The modern parkway idea was represented earliest by county and other undertakings of the character of the Westchester County Parkway system in New York and the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway from Washington to Mount Vernon. Valuable precedents in the extension of the concept were established in New York State by the construction of the Long Island State Parkways and the Eastern State Parkway which is now under construction leading from New York City to Albany. The Blue Ridge Parkway, extending from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, now approaching completion; the Natchez Trace Parkway, following the course of an historic travel route, and now under construction; and the proposed Mississippi River Parkway all these represent still further extensions of the original concept. They point the way to the utilization of the parkway on a national scale to supplement and complement both the Federal Park system and the Federal-Aid Highway system.

Travel along trunk highways has today become largely a chore, something to be accomplished in the shortest possible time. The pleasure of motion and viewing the countryside has been seriously lessened by the mixing of all kinds of traffic; by the frequency of intersections; and by the uncontrolled use of adjacent lands which, by means familiar to all of us, has made most of the roadsides of our heavily traveled roads an eyesore and an abomination.

Since the parkway is, in its essence, an elongated park traversed by a road, the abutting property owners have no right of access, light, or air. Traffic other than by passenger cars is excluded; and the traffic that is permitted gains access only at safe points separated by considerable distances. The properly planned parkway possesses beauty. Structures such as gasoline stations, restaurants, and overnight accommodations are there to serve the traveler and only so many of them are permitted as he really needs. Increasingly, as on any good highway where traffic warrants it, the opposing lines of traffic are separated by a strip of varying width.

Even should parkway construction proceed for some time without any national parkway plan, there is little likelihood that any will be constructed where it is not justified. Yet the time is surely ripe to begin the planning of a national parkway system, so that it may develop in an orderly fashion; so that, so far as possible, the most pressing needs may be met first; and so that their designation and construction may be integrated with both the Federal and State park and highway systems.

The move toward a national parkway system is a move toward restoration, to the car owner, of those returns in pleasant driving, to which his payment of a variety of special and general taxes fully entitles him.

(b) Trails and Trailways. Millions of Americans have forgotten, or have never known, the pleasure of walking. On the one hand the city never has made adequate provision for it, since pavements are not particularly attractive to the person who walks for the pleasure of walking. And the country road of 30 years ago has graduated into a modern highway where no provision has been made for the pedestrian, and where, even if such provision were made, the pleasure of walking would be largely destroyed by the close-by presence of noisy and odoriferous traffic.

Fine and useful as are the Appalachian Trail along the Appalachians from Maine to Georgia, the Long Trail through the Green Mountains, the John Muir Trail along the Sierras, and other trails of this type, they serve only a handful of persons. If walking, one of the best forms of recreation, is to regain the place to which it is entitled in the recreational scheme, the facilities for its enjoyment must be tremendously expanded. Men and women and children who live in cities should be able to go to the end of the bus or trolley line and, only a short distance from there, to exchange the hard pavement for the resilient surface of a footpath leading across fields and through woods, "up hill and down dale." Successfully undertaken in scattered regions by trail clubs and walking clubs, the provision of walking facilities by such groups needs encouragement and support, as a means of supplementing the wilderness trails and the trails and paths that are developed in parks and forests.

State trails were authorized as a proper function of the State by Massachusetts as long ago as 1924, but with little result in actual accomplishment there or by extension to other States. Established largely by right-of-way easement on private lands rather than by means of public ownership, and maintained by a public agency, public trails should be given recognition for their importance in any adequate recreational plan, and their use encouraged in every possible way. Desirable foot path or trail locations, in longer or shorter loops, or as connections between low-fare public transportation lines, can be found in abundance. These, when and if developed, can wisely be supplemented by the longer cross-country trails or paths, such as are being extended and mapped in several regions under the aegis of Youth Hostels. Such trails as these require, for their fullest usefulness, low-cost overnight housing such as that organization has arranged. To the walker on such trails belongs, not the narrow strip of land on which the trail happens to lie, but all that he can see, of meadow and woodland, hill and stream, to the farthest horizon.

(c) Routes of Water Travel. The commercial usefulness of the canals, constructed by the hundreds of miles before and at the time of the advent of the railroad, has now almost completely disappeared; recognition of their potential usefulness as recreational routes has barely begun. Development of facilities for recreational use of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in Illinois was started with the beginning of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Similar development of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal along the Potomac above the Nation's Capital is now well under way. These two examples of long-neglected assets lying close to very large populations may be expected to point the way to similar undertakings elsewhere. The canals, offering excellent recreational experiences both to the walker and the canoeist, possess in addition unusual historical interest; they are reminders of a picturesque and often exciting phase in the history of American transportation; in many places, the canals and their appurtenances, such as the lock tenders' houses along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, possess unusual charm that adds enjoyment to their use.

Related in character to these is the Intracoastal Waterway, extending from Massachusetts to Florida, active commercially—and none the less interesting for it—but used extensively also as a route for pleasure craft. It can logically be further developed as a recreational waterway by control of the use of its banks, provision of public areas for camping and picnicking, preservation of the many historic features along its course, and added facilities for servicing of small craft.

(d) Waysides. This term is used to designate all those provisions of land, really integral parts of the complete highway, needed as stopping places to enable the traveler to derive greater enjoyment from use of the highway itself. It may designate simply a place off the traveled surface of the road where the motorist may pause to enjoy a pleasant view, or to read an historical marker, without endangering himself or others. It may mean a few shady acres where he may stop for a picnic lunch or just for brief relief, in pleasant surroundings, from sitting in an automobile. Some separation from the sight, sound, and smell of traffic is at least highly desirable.

As in the case of several other types of recreational areas, it is impossible to formulate any absolute quantitative recommendations as to extent or frequency of location for waysides. Attractive views, or points of historic interest, may be numerous or rare, depending on the place. Rest and picnic places might well be provided ultimately along well-traveled trunk highways at intervals of 15 to 20 miles, with somewhat longer intervals on highways less traveled.

(e) Control of Outdoor Advertising. The blight which has been laid on the American landscape by outdoor advertising of all kinds, from the snipe sign on a tree to the modern, illuminated "landscaped" billboard which so often is planted in the foreground of the loveliest views from the highway, is one to cause any American to blush with shame. Outdoor advertising, designed to attract the motorist's attention, which, to just the degree that it is successful in accomplishing its purpose is a menace to safety on the highway, has no legitimate place in the rural or wilderness American scene. It can be eliminated or controlled, and by legal means.

The zoning of outdoor advertising out of residence and other locations, by city or county zoning agencies is recognized as a constitutional use of the police power. The State, from which cities and counties derive their zoning power, can exercise in its own behalf any power it can delegate to any other governmental agency. Exercise of that power, by passage of suitable State legislation, should be urged upon State legislatures by all those agencies and individuals interested in preserving and restoring the amenities of the American countryside.

(f) Preservation of Roadside Beauty. Acquisition of attractive highway border strips, or use of scenic easements to obtain assurance of the preservation of natural features which contribute to the enjoyment of driving, offers an opportunity further to preserve highway recreational values for the user of the highway. Michigan and Minnesota, among the States, and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, among the private organizations, have done notable work along these lines worthy of emulation throughout the entire country.

Figure 49.—A complete recreational system for an urban region includes areas and facilities for all appropriate types of recreation located at varying distances from the population centers so that full enjoyment and benefit may be obtained by all of the people during the various recreational periods—week day, holiday, week end, and vacation. Parkways following the most scenic routes lead from the city to or near the major recreational areas and points of interest, the seashore, lakes, mountains, and important cities. Freeways provide safe, fast routes of travel to points beyond the region and relieve secondary and local routes of interregional traffic. Parks, monuments, and forests, located within easy access for holiday and week end and certain vacation use, include facilities for group camping. National parks and monuments preserve the outstanding areas of interregional and national importance and provide vacation facilities for those able to travel some distance. National and State and community forests protect the watersheds of the region and afford certain opportunities for recreation. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Figure 50.—In a metropolitan region, parks, parkways, and forests preserve the scenic and other natural resources for the enjoyment of people and provide open spaces near their homes where they can participate in the various recreational activities on week days and holidays. Most of the land along all streams, lowlands subject to flood, wooded valleys, and historic features in or near the city are set aside for recreational use. The metropolitan region illustrated, which is typical of many metropolitan regions, includes, in addition to the central city, a number of satellite cities in parts of four counties lying in two States. Foot, idle, and bicycle paths are included in the parks and parkways near the center of the region, but on the periphery separate facilities are provided for these types of travel, such as the Appalachian Trailway and the Pacific Crest Trailway. Waysides are located along the main routes of travel, providing opportunities for the tourists to stop and relax, enjoy a view, picnic, and camp. The planning and development of areas and facilities for a metropolitan or urban region require the coordinated efforts of municipal, metropolitan, county, State, and Federal agencies. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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