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Historic Roads in the National Park System






Early Roads

The Development of Park Roads

Teamwork/Cooperative Efforts

Evolution of Parkways

World War II and Beyond

Understanding and Managing Historic Park Roads


Historic Roads in the National Park System
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Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin recommended that 1/10th of the net proceeds of public land sales go into road construction.


At the request of the Senate, Gailatin conducted a national inventory of transportation resources. Gallatin also studied European transportation systems and proved that the most productive facilities in a country were so because of the large integrated transportation networks.


Yellowstone Act signed setting aside the park area "as a public park or pleasuringground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people... regulations hall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition."


Toll roads completed into the Yosemite Valley.


Yellowstone National Park was allotted $15,000 for road construction. This was the first appropriation for roads in a national park.


Congress appropriated $20,000 for protection and improvement in Yellowstone National Park. Superintendent used some of that money and parts of his appropriations for subsequent years in the construction of about 60 miles of rough roads from Mammoth Hot Springs through Norris Geyser Basin to the Upper Geyser Basin.


The U.S. Army took over construction of roads in Yellowstone from this date until 1918. As the roads improved, visitors and transportation systems increased, as did litter.


Sierra Mining Company built the Tioga Pass road.


Agricultural Appropriation Act set aside $10,000 to establish the Office of Road Inquiry under the Secretary of Agriculture. The office investigated road-building techniques and assembled road construction information for public distribution.


Office of Road Inquiry published a "Good Roads National Map" that included all of the macadamized the gravel roads in the United States. Counties asked to update their sections.


Office of Road Inquiry name changed to Office of Public Road Inquiry.


New York was the first state to charge registration fees for motor vehicles.


American Automobile Association founded.


Dr. H. Nelson Jackson and his chauffeur Sewell K. Crocker drove the first automobile coast-to-coast, from San Francisco to New York.


Road completed to Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.


Logan Wailer Page appointed Director of the Office of Public Roads. Office of Public Roads was working with the Forest Service on road construction as early as this year.


Office of Public Roads detailed one engineer to Yellowstone Reserve to make recommendations for improvement and maintenance of forest roads and trails.


Automobiles allowed inside Mount Rainier National Park with written permission of the superintendent.


Secretary of the Interior Ballinger enlisted the help of J. Horace McFarland in preparing a bill to establish a park bureau. McFarland tapped the skills of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in working on it.


At Mount Rainier a rough road was completed as far as Paradise Valley.


The first National Park Conference held to address various issues affecting parks.


Formal agreement to handle road work in national forests established between Office of Public Roads and U.S. Forest Service. Congress setup the "10% Fund" ??? in which 10 percent of forest revenues set aside for roads.


With a $50,000 grant for road building from the Army Corps of Engineers and small park appropriations, Crater Lake pushed to have its park roads passable by 1916.


Knife Edge Road completed up the 2,000-foot mesa at Mesa Verde.


Director Page established a Division of National Park and Forest Roads within OPR, and he appointed T. Warren Allen to head it. Page also sent one engineer and one survey party to Yosemite.


Mark Daniels appointed general superintendent and landscape engineer for all national parks. His office was in San Francisco until it moved to Washington, D.C., in 1916.


After going through a gradual evolution, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) organized.


The work that the Department of Agriculture had been doing on farm drainage, irrigation, and farm architecture, was merged with work on roads. The new agency was called the Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering. Page appointed director.


The Santa Fe and Union Pacific spent $500,000 in exhibits on national parks.


The national park conference of this year included a series of presentations on park roads, and covered topics, from specifications for construction to regional planning.


National Park Service established to:

... promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservation, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.


Seventeen railroads contributed $43,000 to help finance the publication of the first edition of the National Parks Portfolio. Stephen Mather also contributed personal funds to the project.


Congress appropriated $15,000 to repair and extend 15 miles of road into the canyon at Zion, Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 (39 Stat 355). The regulations for this bill established a few standards for road and bridge construction. Later the federal government let AASHO decide upon the standards and made adherence to those standards a condition for receiving federal aid. The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 appropriated $10 million to be spent between 1917 and 1926.

Also by this year the emphasis in road building was shifting from dust prevention methods to road preservation methods. In the latter, layers of tar or asphalt were put down as wearing courses over bases of macadam, slag, or gravel.


First centerline painted on a rural state highway, on a stretch between Marquette and Ishpeming, Michigan.


Bronx River Parkway started. Project included fairly revolutionary ideas including following landforms, dressing slopes, reserving excavated topsoil for later use on finished slopes, preserving vegetation.


As men and material were hauled around the country during the World War, highway officials quickly determined that the road bases were too thin to withstand the heavy loads on army trucks. Often the bases were only 4 inches to 6 inches.


The Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering changed to the Bureau of Public Roads.


December. Logan Wailer Page died of a heart attack.


Thomas H. MacDonald appointed to replace Page as Director of Bureau of Public Roads.


Army Appropriation Act of 1919 (41 Stat 105).


In the 1920 Annual Report, the general inspector of the Bureau of Public Roads noted that during this year 20 roads projects under construction in 11 western states were among the most difficult pieces of construction ??? their roads program. Most of them formed connecting links between state highways, and they all ran over mountain passes that varied from 3,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation.


Federal Highway Act of 1921 (42 Stat 22).


$100,000 granted for construction of the "road over the mountain" in Glacier National Park.


Flash flood in Zion canyon washed out all of the bridges.


First National Conference on Street and Highway Safety held in Washington, D.C. Topics covered included everything from lack of consistent traffic signage to recommendations on road widths.


Congress gave the secretary of the interior authorization to build, reconstruct, or improve roads and trails in national parks, and set aside $2.5 million every year for fiscal years 1924-1927. The first year's money, however, was reduced to $1 million because of the passage of the adjusted soldiers compensation act, and also because so much of the year had passed that the entire amount could not be obligated for construction, but then even that amount was cut. The agency was, however, allowed to keep and even expand its engineering forces. Also congress had the secretary of agriculture turn over war surplus road equipment to interior for park road construction.


In his annual report the Director Stephen Mather wrote that park roads would be built so that visitors could enjoy the parks, but he also stated that large areas of the parks would be accessible only by trails. He noted that the roads would disturb the land as little as possible.


The Southern Appalachian National Park Commission, established by Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work, wrote a report that proposed the construction of a skyline drive along the ridge above the Shenandoah Valley.


The National Park Service prepared a five-year plan of road improvements.


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1925 (43 Stat 889).


Mount Cannel Road at Zion begun as part of $1.5 million package or roads and trails in the parks.


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1926 (44 Stat 760).


Agreement signed between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads. Under the agreement, the Bureau of Public Roads did road engineering and construction for the National Park Service on a reimbursable basis.


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1927 (44 Stat 1398).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1928 (45 Stat 683).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1930 (46 Stat 261).


George Washington Memorial Parkway Act of 1930 (46 Stat 482). First unit completed, and this was a commuter artery.


By this time fewer people came to national parks by rail, and more brought their own automobiles. Railroad tourists had used hotels while automobile tourists usually camped.


Emergency Construction Act of 1930 (46 Stat 1030).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1931 (46 Stat 1053).


By this year only one-fifth of the Park Service's five-year program of road improvements (submitted in 1925) had been completed.


46 Stat 1053 authorized the secretary of the interior to construct approach roads no longer than 60 miles from the entrance of isolated parks to the "nearest convenient 7 percentum road." The bill also required that $1.5 million of the annual Park Service authorization be spent on approach roads.


Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932 (47 Stat 709)


National Industrial Recovery Act (48 Stat 195) made grants available for roadside improvements and pointed out that 60-foot right-of-way inadequate for sloping and erosion control. States often used the money for purchasing slope easement or additional rights-of-way, so that the 100-foot right-of-way was the standard by 1940.


Hayden-Cartwright Act of 1934 (48 Stat 993).


Bureau of Public Roads established its Eastern Parks and Forests District in Washington, D.C.


Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 (49 Stat 993).


Davis-Bacon Act (49 Stat 1011).


Engineer Joseph Barnett of BPR proposed that roads be designed for an "assumed design speed" —??? the speed at which most drivers would be driving the road. This became known as the "balanced design concept."


First contract issued for Blue Ridge Parkway construction.


Federal-Aid Highway Act Amendment (49 Stat 1519).


Federal-Aid Highway Act (59 Stat 633).


Defense Highway Act (55 Stat 765).


Inter-American Highway Act (55 Stat 860).


With the advent of World War II, road construction in national parks halted. By this time 1,781 miles of park roads and 255 miles of access roads had been completed. The total amount expended amounted to approximately $87 million.


Defense Highway Act Amendment (56 Stat 562).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment (57 Stat 560).


Federal-Aid Highway Act (58 Stat 838) authorized $4.3 million for highways in national parks and $10 million for parkways. Construction under this authorization began in 1946.


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment (59 Stat 507).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment (60 Stat 709).


Federal-Aid Highway Amendment (61 Stat 136).


Federal-Aid Highway Act (62 Stat 1105)


Federal-Aid Highway Act (64 Stat 785).


Federal-Aid Highway Act (66 Stat 158).


Federal-Aid Highway Act (68 Stat 70).


Mission 66 started. The program included upgrading existing park roads and trails, construction of new park roads, and construction on eight national parkways. Yellowstone roads received additional emphasis in preparation for the park's centennial in 1972.


Functions of the Bureau of Public Roads transferred to Department of Transportation by an act of Congress, and they are assigned to the Federal Highway Administration.


Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 established Federal Lands Highways Program to ensure that highways on federal lands treated under uniform standards.


Interagency agreement signed between Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service, superseding 1964 interagency agreement. The gist of the agreement was that the National Park Service would develop park road and parkway design, construction, maintenance, and safety standards, among other items. Following established tradition, the National Park Service was responsible for providing architectural and landscape architectural services to "ensure that the highest standards of aesthetics and resources protection are followed in the placement of road prisms and the design of structures appurtenant to park roads and parkways."

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