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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
National Park Service Arrowhead

visitors at overlook with river below
(Elliot Lyman Fisher photo)


Official concern of the National Park Service with parks and related areas other than those that it administers dates from the emergency program and the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Almost from the time the National Park Service was established in 1916, however, there has been a realization of the natural close relationship, between the responsibilities of this Service and those of other agencies charged with park administration. The first director, Stephen T. Mather, was a leader in the work of the Save-the-Redwoods League, out of which grew the California State park program. He and Judge John Barton Payne, then Secretary of the Interior, shared major responsibility for the first National Conference on State Parks in Des Moines in 1921. Mr. Mather was the head of this Conference during the last 2 years of his life.

Such activities were based upon motives at least partly concerned directly with the task of the National Park Service. At that time scores of proposals were before Congress to create additional national parks, many of which it was felt were not of such outstanding character as to be included in the national system but which, in any Nation-wide program for preservation of scenic resources, did warrant their ownership by a public park agency. Thus, there was seen in the development of competent park administrations by the States at once a means of accomplishing an end desirable in itself, and a protection of the standards of the national park system. It was apparent also that this course would encourage acquisition and preservation of features of truly national character and importance—such, for example, as the California redwood groves which the National Park Service would have had little or no means to obtain. The event has abundantly justified that philosophy and the course of action which was based upon it.

During the years between its establishment and the coming of the CCC, the National Park Service had been facing and meeting the double problem of safeguarding resources of natural scenery and at the same time of making it possible that they be put to those important educational and inspirational uses for which they were established. It had also had the task of providing facilities and structures and guidance for those types of active, physical recreation which fit into the national park program. It was, therefore, natural and logical that, having developed many of the techniques required for performance of those tasks, the National Park Service should be called upon to give general direction of CCC developments on State, county, and metropolitan parks. At the beginning of the CCC program, approximately 100 camps were in operation on non-Federal park areas, and at one time there were more than 450 such camps.

National parks had been established to be preserved in their natural condition for the enjoyment of the people of present and future generations; it had proved possible to provide a considerable variety of recreational experience in them without material impairment of their natural character. Because of this important concern with recreational use of its own lands and with the development of a large number of other park and recreation areas, the Service was asked by the National Resources Board, in 1934, to prepare a report on " Recreational Use of Land in the United States," which was published as Part XI of the Report on Land Planning. That report may properly be considered the first in a series of which the present document is the second. It is expected and hoped that revised or new studies and reports may be prepared and published at approximately 5-year intervals. The field of parks and recreation is far from static; the physical picture steadily changes while principle and objective develop and evolve as experience is gained. Concepts of responsibility as applied to various agencies and the various levels of government are found also to be subject to similar evolution.

The 1934 report was an attempt to obtain, on very short notice, an over-all picture of recreational land use and the problem of making adequate provision of lands for such use. It was based upon no such detailed studies of the majority of States as have been available in the present instance. This major change in the situation is the result of the Park, Parkway and Recreation Study Act of 1936, referred to in Secretary Ickes' Foreword. As this is written, there have been prepared reports on 34 States, which not only show what provision is now being made to provide nonurban recreation in various land categories, but also, based upon a variety of factors, what provision still needs to be made in the light of present knowledge and thought.

In what has been written here there have, naturally, been numerous references to the word "recreation." This is defined in the Standard Dictionary as "the act of recreating, or the state of being recreated; refreshment of body or mind after toil; diversion; amusement." Throughout this report there has been an endeavor to use the word consistently in the broad sense of that definition rather than in the narrower sense that connotes only physical exertion.

From one point of view there is justification within that broad definition to classify national parks and monuments as "recreational areas," since the enjoyment envisioned in the act creating the Service was surely "refreshment" not only "of body and mind" but of the spirit as well. However, the Service has consistently maintained that its dominant purpose has been refreshment of mind and spirit; that that purpose could be accomplished with the utmost satisfaction only if the inspirational qualities of the areas it administered, whether based upon natural scenery, or scientific, historic or prehistoric values, were safeguarded to the utmost; and that provision of physical recreation was permissible only to the extent that it did not impair those qualities.

That this purpose shall be invariably dominant is the basic distinguishing characteristic of the National Park and Monument System; it has been since the National Park Service was established a quarter of a century ago. Physical recreation is a byproduct of the parks, though by the very nature of the areas it is an important and valuable one.

It should in fairness be added that this concern with preservation of natural or other qualities is by no means limited to the National Park Service, nor is its application limited to the areas it administers. Chiefly in State park systems, and in some Federal agencies, is this concern manifested toward virgin forest, lake and stream, mountain and sea coast, as well as sites of historic and prehistoric significance which have been entrusted to their care. The part played by the States in this has been an important and significant one.

As the definition would indicate, the concern of this report is not with a limited concept of recreation, restricted to those kinds which the national parks and monuments so splendidly supply or to those many kinds that we designate as active or physical recreation, but with all kinds of outdoor recreation. Its purpose is to present an over-all picture of recreational needs and of the methods by which it appears that public agencies must move to meet them, if they are to be met satisfactorily. The national park system, with its present area categories and those which may be added in the future; the growing and tremendously useful State park systems; county, metropolitan and municipal systems; and numerous other types of areas which, regardless of administrative jurisdiction, provide incidental, but often important recreational services all these are integral parts of what, with proper thought and the will to co-operate and coordinate, should become an orderly and adequate pattern of park and recreational land ownership, development and use. It is hoped that this report may make a contribution of real value to accomplishment of that pattern.

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Last Modified: Mon, Aug 9 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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