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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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Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park

Chapter II: Aspects of Recreational Planning


map of U.S.

Population and Its Distribution. The 1940 population of the United States is estimated at 132,000,000 persons. Students of population have estimated that if trends in birth rates, restrictions on immigration, and other factors influencing population increases continue, it will result in a fairly stable maximum population of approximately 158,000,000, and that this maximum will probably be reached in about the year 1980.

Of our present population, slightly more than 50 percent is crowded upon less than 1 percent of our land surface—our cities and towns—and it appears probable that the percentage of urban population will continue to increase, barring some as yet unforeseen factor which would revise the trend.

Land and Water Areas, and their Relation to Population and Economic Requirements. The total area of the 48 States and the District of Columbia is 1,903,000,000 acres, of which 33,920,000 acres are covered with water. Studies have indicated that, from about 55 percent of the land, the needs of the prospective population of the United States for food, wearing apparel, shelter, and commodities for export (except forest products) can be met for an indefinite period.1 The United States Forest Service classifies 615,000,000 acres, or about 34 percent of the total area, as forest land and estimates that 509,000,000 acres, or about 25 percent of the total area should be used for the commercial production of timber.2 With only about 6/10 of 1 percent of the total area now occupied by urban populations, it is unlikely that more than 1 percent—including the playgrounds, playfields, parks and parkways within urban limits will ever be required for our cities. Thus we have available, over and above those special allocations cited above, approximately 361,000,000 acres, or 19 percent of our area, which may be set aside economically for special uses not directly related to the provision of food, clothing and shelter for recreation, watershed protection, wildlife conservation, or a combination of these uses. Nor does this acreage have to bear the full load of providing recreation. In addition to the tremendously important recreational service provided by urban areas set aside for that purpose, probably the most vital of all recreational services,?? recreation is an important by-product of much of that 509,000,000 acres of forest and wood lot and even, though in much smaller degree, of the lands devoted to agriculture.

1 U. S. Dept. of Agr., National Land use Planning Committee, First Annual Publication No. V, Washington, D. C. 1933, PP. 12-13.

2 Forest Land Resources, Requirements, Problems, and Policy, Part VIII of supplementary report of Land Planning Committee to National Resources Committee, 1935.

On the other hand, the potential contribution of much of that 361,000,000 acres available for recreational uses and not directly required for the provision of food, clothing, and shelter, is very low. It includes perhaps 67,000,000 acres of desert or bare, rocky lands which, while by no means lacking in recreational importance, can be utilized scarcely at all for mass recreation. Most of it, by its very nature, is located at a distance from heavy populations; virtually all of it lies west of the eastern boundary of Colorado, and in states of comparatively sparse population.

Natural Factors Affecting Recreation. These are commonplaces of park selection: that parks should possess topographic interest; that water, whether as stream, or lake, or ocean, contributes to attractiveness or beauty of appearance, and possesses permanent value for active recreation, in the forms of bathing, swimming, boating, fishing; that varied and attractive vegetation comes near to being essential; that temperatures, rainfall, winds, and humidity—the basic elements of climate all have an effect on the recreational usefulness of any area; that abundance and variety of wildlife lend important interest. However, be topography interesting or monotonous, water abundant or scarce, vegetation abundant or sparse, or climate salubrious or enervating, day-by-day recreational requirements are going to have to be met with the best that can be obtained near at hand. For a large proportion of the population, the charms of New England or California or Florida or any other summer or winter vacation meccas possess little significance. The influence of the factors named above is of major significance to that part of the population which has the means and the leisure for at least occasional travel some distance from their homes. In the United States this group probably comprises a greater percentage of the whole population than in any other country in the world. It is because of the mobility of so large a percentage of our population that we are fully justified in the establishment of parks and other recreational areas and facilities at a distance from concentrations of population, confident that if their natural characteristics possess high quality and their development is satisfactory, they will be patronized. Not only do such outlying areas render a direct service to those who use them, but also, by their "pull" upon those who can afford to seek recreation at some distance from home, they lighten the pressure on facilities nearer at hand at times—on week-ends, on holidays, and during vacation periods when that pressure is heaviest.

Figure 17. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Human Influences. In addition to those natural factors which affect the recreational "drawing power" of places and regions, a multitude of other factors, the result of man's own acts, have similar effects; and, like the natural factors, some of these are favorable, some unfavorable. They are normally the result of efforts undertaken for economic advantage—either the making of a livelihood, as in the case of the Tennessee farmer on his precipitous hillside corn patch, or a profit, as in the case of the coal operator or the paper maker whose wastes pollute the streams. By no means all of them have had socially undesirable results. Millions of acres of land once forested are undoubtedly more valuable, from every standpoint, as productive farm land. And, equally certainly, objection cannot be raised either to the mining of coal or the making of paper as such, but rather to any needless abuse or destruction of natural resources that accompanies them.

In this section it is not possible, of course, to paint a picture of all the changes man has produced in his natural environment and to evaluate their effects, favorable or unfavorable, on the recreational productiveness of that environment. We can only suggest some of the major factors, those of special and far-reaching significance in either expanding or limiting the usefulness of areas, large or small, for recreation.

(a) Pollution. Foremost in this group, it would seem, is pollution of the waters of streams, lakes, even of the ocean. A recent special report to the National Resources Committee says:

Half of the municipal sewage of the country is discharged untreated into water bodies . . . 2,300 tons of sulphuric acid are discharged into streams annually from abandoned and active coal mines. . . . Large quantities of culm from anthracite mines and huge quantities of brine from the older oil fields are deposited in streams. A large variety and a great volume of wastes are discharged from industrial plants.

Water pollution is a problem of national concern. It is especially serious in the relatively populous and highly industrialized northeastern sections of the country.

Recreational values which have depreciated or failed to materialize as a result of water pollution are even more elusive to measurement. They are affected by bacterial pollution which renders water unfit for bathing and by solid or dissolved substances which cause obnoxious odors, tastes, and color, and produce unsightly conditions that make the water unattractive to the angler, swimmer, or summer cottager. Pollution has caused the decline of recreational use of some water and land areas, particularly in metropolitan districts. It has been more influential in limiting recreational development in such districts and in forcing public and private agencies to seek more distant locations for park and resort facilities. A clear stream has aesthetic value which is real but intangible and its restoration or preservation may yield real community benefits.

The committee wishes to emphasize the importance and the intangible character of the wildlife and recreational effects of water pollution in comparison with its other effects. As the public health hazards are eliminated or minimized and as that abatement which patently is feasible from the standpoint of reducing water treatment and corrosion costs is accomplished, the justification for a greater degree of abatement will rest in considerable measure upon the values assigned to wildlife, recreation, and the aesthetics of clean streams. Public health always will be the basic consideration in pollution abatement, but the relative importance of wildlife, recreational, and general aesthetic considerations seems likely to increase.3

3 Water Pollution in the U. S., Third Report of the Special Advisory Committee, water Pollution N. R. C. 1939.

During the past decade rapid strides have been made, particularly through Federal cooperation, in the construction of municipal sewerage systems, and it appears that remedial measures will continue. The polluted condition of many of our smaller streams and most of the larger rivers is nevertheless still a serious problem. For example, much of the sewage of the Nation's Capital is still being discharged untreated into the Potomac River within the District of Columbia limits and through and alongside its parks and recreational areas. Waste from industrial plants continues to be a major problem which demands legislative action and perhaps subsidization. The industries which provide much of our employment in this country also provide the bulk of industrial pollution, hence correction is a matter of public concern not only from the social basis but also the economic concern for the continuance of the industry. It is unfortunate that the greatest stream pollution so frequently exists at the very places where the waters, if unpolluted, could render the greatest recreational return.

mosaic of images of scenic parks
Figure 18.—More water recreational areas should be in public ownership.

(b) Drainage. The drainage of swamps and marshes has been one of the major causes of a seriously diminished supply of wild waterfowl. Those acres of marshlands, containing small lakes that supplied food, cover, and resting grounds for great flocks of ducks and geese, have been drained so that the land might be devoted to agricultural uses, often with disappointing results. In many cases the economic value of marshlands, as such, has proven to be greater than that of the land converted to agricultural uses. During the past few years considerable effort has been expended by the Federal and State governments in restoring swamps and marshes and in the creating of new water areas. The construction of reservoirs for power, irrigation, and navigation has sometimes made possible incidental but important recreational use of the impounded waters, though this is frequently offset by fluctuating water levels and low water during the season of highest recreational use, resulting in exposure of an unsightly belt of land at the water's edge, bare or strewn with unsightly masses of decaying vegetation.

mosaic of images of impacted environments
Figure 19.—We cannot afford to neglect our resources.

(C) Overgrazing, Fires and Other Misuses of Land. Overgrazing has prohibited reproduction of plant life and allowed erosion to set in on some lands formerly valuable for recreational use. The clearing, for agricultural use, of lands better suited to timber production, the harvesting of timber crops without regard to reproduction, have left lands in many cases worthless for agriculture or industry and for a long time spoiled for recreation. Broadcast burning, such as is still practiced on millions of acres of grasslands and woodlands, is a prize example of destructive land practice. Many of these are tax delinquent lands and will again come into public ownership. Lumbering is a justifiable economic use of land, and, when properly done, yields gratifying returns on many millions of acres. Also, when properly managed, forest lands have in many cases real recreational values.

Most cities have developed without advance planning, and as a result, natural features which should have been preserved for their recreational values were neglected and destroyed. Streams which might have been a major recreational feature in the front yards of cities have frequently become the refuse dumps in the back yard.

mosaic of images
Figure 20.—They must be preserved.

(d) Monopoly of Facilities. As indicated at several points, the normal and proper functioning of society places heavy legitimate demands on our natural resources. We cannot expect, nor is it socially or economically desirable, to set aside every area that possesses recreational possibilities for recreational use alone, nor even always to encourage its use for that purpose in conjunction with other uses. There is, however, a very widespread employment of lands and waters in ways not of themselves improper or socially undesirable, but which prevents or limits recreational use of greater social value. Thus, the urge for private possession of frontage on ocean or Great Lakes waters, and on the waters of hundreds of lakes and rivers, and the frequently costly private developments which have been placed on them, have not only limited their usefulness in providing recreation but have made it extremely costly to recapture such properties in many situations where they would render a tremendous recreational service if publicly owned and developed for that purpose. As is natural, the most accessible recreational assets have been monopolized by a part of the people, to the exclusion of the remainder.

(e) Roadside Slums. Closely related to this situation is one which results in a definite and serious lessening of the public's enjoyment of automobile travel—the lack of public control of developments adjacent to highways. Though outdoor advertising is prohibited within the right-of-way in most States, its placement within sight from the road has made the approaches to most cities a nightmare, and the billboard companies seem almost invariably to place their posters in the most attractive locations possible out in the open country. A close second in undesirability are the shoddy structures which for the most part house those roadside business enterprises that cater to the travelers' needs or desires.

Regional Influences of Natural and Human Factors. Without attempting to cover the United States in detail, let us examine briefly the connection between these factors the natural ones and those that are the result of human activity in some of the major regions of the United States.

The Northeast, including New York and Pennsylvania; the upper portions of the Lake States; the Appalachians; the Pacific Northwest; the Rocky Mountain area extending from the Canadian border down into New Mexico; the Black Hills; even the southern coastal section of California, exert a strong summer "pull" on those who are able to seek recreation at a considerable distance. The factors are much the same topography that ranges all the way from the merely interesting to the most spectacular in America; abundance of forest and of plant life in general, except in southern California; varied water resources of streams, lakes, and oceans; temperatures which seldom reach extremes; lack of excessive humidity; in fact, most of the factors favorable to enjoyment of the out-of-doors in summer are found to exist in these regions. The black flies of northern New England, northern New York, and the upper Lake States are adverse factors during otherwise wholly pleasant early summer weeks.

Again the Great Lakes States, New York, New England and part of Pennsylvania, the Cascades, the Sierras, and the Rockies, with their cold winters and usual ample snowfall, invite distant travel for winter sports. The dry, clear air, the fascinating topography, the interesting desert vegetation, and the sunshiny days make the desert country of southern Arizona and New Mexico attractive during the winter months to thousands who have the means to travel in winter, even though water features and the vegetation that normally goes with moderate or abundant rainfall are largely lacking. Human migrants are drawn in numbers to the South Atlantic Coast, the Southern Piedmont, southern Florida and the whole Gulf coast and to southern California, during the winter, because of mild temperature, sunshine, and the many opportunities offered for outdoor activity on land and water.


Looking briefly at the reverse side of the picture, we may readily discern definite and extensive regions, which at one time or another during the year are avoided by most people who are seeking recreation and who can travel some distance to find it. During summer and winter alike, much of the Great Plains and prairie country belongs in this category, since in general this large region lacks outstanding topographic interest and recreationally useful waters, summers are hot, and winters are cold, with bitter winds. "Tourist income," in most of this section, is largely income from tourists on their way to some other place.

So, too, the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain in summer is so hot and the air so humid that vacation seekers generally avoid it, the pleasanter narrow coast fringe serving largely to provide relief spots for the coastal plain and Piedmont hinterland. The occasional incidence of malaria in this extensive expanse of land is a further deterrent to tourist travel in this direction. And even though winter temperatures are relatively mild, the scarcity of sunny days, the long continued rains, and the moist atmosphere discourage winter travel into the Pacific Northwest, except for those who seek the excellent winter sports opportunities offered in the mountains.

With some exceptions, human influences, where they have been sufficient to affect recreational values at all, have affected them adversely. Thus, destructive methods of farming on the Piedmont and the mountain slopes above it and over parts of the Plains States, and overgrazing in much of the West, not only have resulted in the heavy economic loss of soils, but also have caused the silting up of streams with consequent damage to appearance, to enjoyment of bathing and other activities dependent on water, and to fish life. Cities, large and small, all over the country, are dumping untreated sewage into streams, there to mingle with industrial wastes, to offend the nose and the eye, to repel or kill aquatic life, and to render recreational uses unpleasant and dangerous. The ghastly appearance of mountain slopes after certain types of logging operation, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, certainly lessens the pleasure of touring, as does the smoke of the burning-over to which logged-over areas are subjected there, and of the set fires which are allowed to run each year over millions of acres of southeastern and southern forest.

Notable exceptions to the adverse effects of human activities are found in those places—located largely in the East and South—where history has been made and considerable effort has been expended to display and interpret its physical remains.

Relation to Planning. The foregoing discussion of population, and of the natural and human factors which contribute, favorably and unfavorably, to the recreational appeal of a place or of a region, suggests elements that demand their due consideration in the formulation of plans for selection of areas for outdoor recreation and for their development for such use. In this country we are subject to none of the artificial barriers and hindrances to free movement which handicap or prevent it in many parts of the world. Movement for recreation or any other purpose is conditioned almost wholly on available leisure and economic status. Probably nowhere else in the world are so many people and so large a percentage of the population in a position to avail themselves of opportunities to seek distant playgrounds. The ability to enjoy them at moderate cost, whether through availability of publicly provided facilities such as those of national and state parks and forests, or through those provided by private enterprise, tends to lengthen travel range for those of more limited means. This fact possesses great weight with respect to the necessity of providing areas, well distributed throughout regions of greatest outdoor-recreational appeal, in public ownership, and of placing on them facilities for vacation enjoyment that will involve the minimum drain on limited vacation funds. That is a responsibility properly to be expected of public agencies the group of agencies with whose fields of activity this report is primarily, though not wholly, concerned.

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