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Historic Sites
Economic Aspects


Federal Lands
State and Interstate


Division of Responsibility


Educational Opportunities

Recreational Use of Land in the United States

The Problem

In the general program of the National Resources Board the National Park Service has been assigned the section which deals with recreational use of land. This has been interpreted to mean recreational use of land and water, since the two are actually inseparable.

The quest of the present report is not only for that recreational vein which flows abundantly through our national resources, but for the most effective means of tapping that vein. Shall it be in the easy and casual "water-witching" method, or shall it be a planned attack? Certainly, the real, human need for abundant and varied recreation, and the long-established value of a planned campaign, dictate that our method should be the latter. In other words, our recreational resources are to be considered in this report as national resources, to be found and developed under a national plan. Therefore, recreational use of land in the United States must be coordinated with other forms of land use.

To correct any misconception that a national plan for utilizing our national recreational resources would imply inhibition of individual choice of such values, it should be stated at the outset that the very essence of recreation involves an element of individual choice or freedom.

Recreation, as used in this report, connotes all that is recreative of the individual, the community, or the Nation. In this sense it is broader than the "physical activity" concept. It includes mental and spiritual expression. It allows gratification of the nearly infinite variety of tastes and predilections so far as that gratification is consistent with sustained utilization of the Nation's recreational resources.

A specific example of this broader concept is given by Lovejoy.

* * * the backbone of "outdoor recreation" is the production and direct or indirect utilization of 'wildlife.' In the past this has usually meant hunting or fishing facilities, but in he modern and wider sense includes the aesthetic as well; the chance to see a deer as well as the chance to shoot one; the chance to photograph a beaver lodge as well as to wear a fur collar; the chance to observe arbutus peeping through the snow-packed leaves, as well as to buy bunches of the naked flowers from a car window; the chance to wander down aisles carpeted with soft brown pine needles and to listen to the sighing of the zephyrs in the boughs, as well as to buy lumber.1

1 Lovejoy, P. S., Concepts and Contours in Land Utilization (in Journal of Forestry, vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 381-391. See p. 388, April 1933).

National resources of recreational value may be found almost anywhere, and a national plan for utilizing them must include their conservation for recreational use. The conservation of any large national resource involves land-use planning of national scope. For example, recreation may be found in the conventionalized social routine of the popular summer resort, or it may be found in the solitude of the wilderness. Facilities for the former are commonly supplied. Suitable areas for the latter must be reserved before all have disappeared. They must be of sufficient extent to give complete satisfaction.

It is the purpose of this report to disentangle some of the conflicting and inhibiting views which have prevented national recreational resources from being used, and to present a plan for coordinating their use with other land uses.

This means that the recreational function of the various forms of land use must be analyzed, evaluated in relation to the other functions, and provided for by the various administrative organizations of the Nation according to their particular capacities and responsibilities.

The continental United States contains 1,903,000,000 acres of land. Of this, approximately one-half is physically adapted to the production of harvested farm crops for food, clothing, etc. Progressive developments in agricultural technique hold out the promise that from this one-half of the total land area, plus limited pasturage of parts of the other half, the needs of the prospective population of the United States for food, wearing apparel, and export commodities, etc., can be met for an indefinite period.

This primary and dominant fact raises sharply the question of the future economic and social destiny of the remaining half of the land area of the 48 States. It is not needed for farm-crop production. Our cultivated area needs contraction, not expansion, and attempts to use such lands for that purpose will entail expenditures of capital and human effort far disproportionate to the average returns obtainable. On the other hand, the abandonment of such lands, the cessation of all organized and systematic protection against deterioration and destruction, would set in motion a process of slow attrition which, over the years, would markedly impair one of the Nation's basic resources, its soil capital.

The fact that one-hall of the land area of the 48 States is poorly adapted to and not needed for farm-crop production does not mean that it is lacking in potentialities for social and economic services. On the contrary it is rich in such potentialities, which readily can be realized by systematic determination of the kinds of economic or social service to which specific types of areas of land are best adapted, and by the gradual adjustment of the use of such lands, through voluntary private action or legislatively authorized public action, to the forms of service so determined.

It is evident, for example, that a balanced economy and sound program of industrial and social organization will require that adequate supplies of timber be permanently available to meet national needs, and shall be so distributed regionally as to maintain a proper balance between regional production and consumption. To this end, a large proportion of the available area should permanently be dedicated to forestry.

Another need of large dimensions is that of provision for the scientific, educational, and recreational requirements of a population steadily growing not only in numbers, but in cultural standards; a need made progressively acute and important by the increase in leisure time and the growing intensity of metropolitan existence. To satisfy these needs an adequate part of the territory not required to feed or clothe the Nation or to furnish products for export should be dedicated to public service as parks, monuments, recreational areas, playgrounds, etc.

As time goes on, the great social, scientific, educational, and economic potentialities of the wildlife resources of the Nation gain enlarged recognition. Their conservation, development, and augmentation are dictated by all considerations of public interest and welfare, and the dedication to that purpose of large areas of available lands through their permanent establishment as wildlife refuges or sanctuaries, with certain related areas for public shooting grounds, would be good public economy, productive of a high type and return of social and economic service.2

2 U. S. Department of Agriculture, National Land Use Planning Committee First Annual Report, Publication No. V, Washington, D. C., July 1913. See pp. 12—13.

sketch: An Objective Increases Travel

Discussion of Terms

The rapidly growing interest in recreation in America during the past 30 years has given rise to the frequent use of many words and terms not always clearly defined as to their functional meaning.

Because of this confusion, a few terms are defined here, since it is desirable that the reader know what meanings these terms have, as used in this report.

Outstanding among these words are "leisure", "recreation", and "conservation".

Other words and terms in common usage relate to specific land and water areas used for recreation, the most common of which is "park." Others relate to types of recreational facilities, and still others to types of activities, administration, and personnel.

Leisure.—Leisure is that segment of time in the life of any individual, separate and apart from time spent as necessary for his personal care, sleep, and securing the necessities of life for himself and those dependent upon him, and the accumulation of surplus wealth.

Leisure connotes freedom to act at will, while other forms of time consumption involve certain elements of compulsion, either real or imaginary.

Recreation.—Recreation is the creative use of leisure.

It takes many forms expressive of needs, desires, qualities, powers, interests, and instincts of individuals. In character, it may be passive, as in complete rest and relaxation without action; semiactive or mildly active, as in listening to music, viewing works of art or a beautiful landscape, strolling, reading for pleasure, attending a dramatic performance, witnessing sports and games, taking part in quiet conversation; active, as in participating in sports and games, swimming, rowing, hiking, riding, fishing, hunting, camping, playing a musical instrument or singing, acting in a play, painting a picture, studying for self-improvement, traveling, gardening, engaging in various kinds of handicraft arts, dancing, taking part in civic, political, or social activities, writing, public speaking, or debating. In quality, recreation always involves the idea of freedom of choice and freedom of action. It has the further quality of bringing immediate personal satisfaction or happiness. Recreation is an end in itself; it may have and usually does have far-reaching beneficial results, both individual and social.3

3 "Recreation is any pleasurable activity of mind or body which is stimulating and refreshing, and which is entered into without compulsion or expectation of material gain. It is a form of wish fulfillment and is usually associated with leisure." Lee F. Hammer, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, Letter Aug. 17, 1934.

Conservation.—Conservation is the wise use of natural resources.

The conservation of any natural resource requires first that the resource be dedicated to the highest uses for which it is suited. The second requirement is for immediate protection against all influences adverse to this highest use. Then comes determination of the question as to whether the public interest will be best served by immediate or deferred utilization of the resource. If use is to be immediate, then a plan of development must be invoked which will perpetuate or possibly even increase the resource for the type of utilization to which it is dedicated. If the highest use of a natural resource is to be found in the perpetuation of its primeval condition, any or all developments which lessen this primeval condition are destructive of that resource.

Types of Recreational Areas

Park.—A park is an area set aside for recreation, especially characterized by landscape either natural or designed.

It functions recreationally as a retreat for the people for rest, relaxation, and inspiration, in an environment of quietness and natural beauty, and for such activities as do not essentially conflict with the character of a naturalistic landscape.

Playground.—A playground is an area designated and used primarily for the play of children.

Such areas are sometimes divided into three types: (1) The kindergarten playground for children under 5 or 6 years of age; (2) small childrenŐs playground for children from 6 to 10 years of age; (3) neighborhood playground designed for the use of children of all ages up to 15 years.

Auxiliary use: The neighborhood playground may have and usually does have an auxiliary recreational use for youths and adults.

Administrative authorities: Playgrounds are types of areas most commonly provided in municipal recreational systems and in connection within educational systems. They are, however, frequently provided in county and metropolitan recreational systems.

Playfield.—A playfield is an area designated for the sports and games of young people and adults.

Auxiliary use: A playfield area may include a childrenŐs playground.

Administrative authorities: Playfields are most commonly provided in municipal, county, and metropolitan recreational systems. They are likewise common in educational systems, and occasionally appear in State recreational areas.

Athletic Field.—An athletic field is all area designed for highly organized, competitive games and sports of youths and adults.

Attendance at athletic fields is usually subject to a fee, the design including provisions for track and field sports, competitive, highly organized games, seating for spectators, and field house, the entire area being enclosed with a wall-like fence.

Administrative authorities: Athletic fields are most commonly parts of municipal recreational systems and school systems, but are also occasionally found in county and metropolitan recreational systems.

Recreation Center.—A recreation center is an area designed and equipped for a wide variety of outdoor and indoor recreational activities for children, youths, and adults.

The design for such an area includes a childrenŐs playground, outdoor games and sports facilities for young people and adults, outdoor or indoor swimming pool, and a recreation building or community house equipped for social, civic, cultural, and physical activities.

Administrative authorities: Such areas are most commonly parts of municipal recreational systems, but are also occasionally provided in county systems. In many modern public schools systems may be found such a combination of an area and a building as would qualify as a recreation center.

Neighborhood or "Intown" Park.—A neighborhood or "intown" park is a recreational area designed according to the principles of landscape architecture primarily for adornment of the neighborhood in which it is located and as a place for relaxation for the inhabitants living near it.

In size, such an area may range from 2 or 3 acres to 20 or 30 or even more acres.

Comment: The neighborhood or "intown" park is the modern descendant of the "commons", "plazas", "squares", of the colonial towns and cities.

Auxiliary uses: It is not uncommon to use such parks for the play of very little children, conducting of concerts, dramatic performances, socials, neighborhood civic celebrations, and other public gatherings.

Administrative authorities: This type of park is most commonly found in municipal recreational systems, but appears occasionally in county and metropolitan systems.

Large Recreational Park.—A large recreational park is an area ranging from several hundred to several thousand acres, designed and constructed according to those principles of landscape architecture known as the "naturalistic", preserving and presenting a varied naturalistic landscape, and primarily intended as a retreat for the people for relaxation, inspiration, and enjoyment of the beauties of nature, and renewal of contact with the soil and growing things; as an escape from the crowding, sights, and sounds of the city; and for such active recreations as fit harmoniously into a naturalistic landscape.

Comment: These large recreational areas have become commonly subjected to uses not in harmony with their primary purposes or character, such as being utilized to an excessive degree as sites for playfields athletic fields, stadia, or swimming pools—a practice that unfortunately is likely to continue.

Administrative authorities: This type of park is most commonly associated with municipal recreational systems but it also appears in county and metropolitan recreational systems in those situations where such systems exist under practically urban conditions.

Parkway.—A parkway is an elongated, naturalistic, landscaped, recreational area comprising as its prominent features a pleasure driveway with a bridle path and hiking trail through its entire length, not always but often connecting two or more large recreational areas of park character.

Auxiliary uses: The areas along a parkway road frequently present opportunities for various forms of passive recreations and for such active recreations as picnicking, hiking, riding, bicycling, playing of games in open meadows; and swimming, boating, skating, and canoeing, if the topography includes a stream.

Administrative authorities: Parkways are features of municipal, county, metropolitan, State, and national recreational systems.

Stream. Easement.—A stream easement is an area along the bank or banks of a stream leased for a special period of time by some public agency for the purpose of allowing the public free access to the waters of a privately owned stream for fishing.

Administrative authorities: Such easement areas are administered at the present time (1934) exclusively by State agencies.

Great Pond.—A great pond is an area of natural water of 10 acres or more to which the public has a right of free access for fishing and fowling subject to Federal-State laws regulating fishing and fowling.

Types of Wildlife Reservations

Since the various forms of wildlife utilization provide different types of recreation, and since these different types of recreation frequently demand conflicting uses within a single wildlife area, it is desirable to define types of wildlife areas according to their uses.

Wildlife Sanctuary.—A wildlife sanctuary is an area set aside and maintained for the inviolate protection of all of its biota.

This is the type of area which is set aside for the pleasure of seeing and studying the biota, and is not subject to hunting, trapping, or any other commercial utilization. Whether or not the biota of the sanctuary produces a surplus which is harvested outside the boundaries of the sanctuary is incidental when compared with its main objective—protection.

Refuge.—A refuge is an area wherein protection is accorded to selected species of animal life.

Refuges are established for either game (game refuge) or nongame animals (i. e., pelican refuge) or in some cases both, but they involve the protection of the selected species for some particular purpose, whether that purpose is a matter of aesthetics, scientific investigation, hunting, or commerce. Other forums of animal life predatory upon or adversely affecting time selected forums within the refuge might be controlled.

Preserve.—A preserve is an area set aside and maintained for the production and/or harvesting of wild animal life on a sustained yield basis.

Wildlife Preserve is an area set aside and maintained for the production and harvesting of any or all forms of the native biota on a sustained yield basis.

A Game Preserve is an area set aside. and maintained for the production and harvesting, or harvesting only, of game animals.


Last Modified: Fri, Sep. 5, 2003 10:32:22 am PDT

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