National Parks
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Chapter 4:
New Parks, Enduring Perspectives

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, . . . shall, upon conviction, be fined . . . or be imprisoned . . . or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Antiquities Act, 1906

Much as for Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone, monumentalism and economic worthlessness were predetermining factors leading to the establishment of Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant national parks. And even if it was an unwritten policy, no qualification outweighed the precedent of "useless" scenery; only where scenic nationalism did not conflict with materialism could the national park idea further expand. First to exemplify the interplay of both forces after 1890 was Washington State's Mount Rainier. Rising majestically above its encircling forests, the extinct volcano invited the cultural fantasies so prevalent during the opening decades of the national park idea. "I could have summoned back the whole antique world of mythology and domiciled it upon this greater and grander Olympus," declared one preservationist. Before Mount Rainier "the mild glories of the Alps and Apennines grow anemic and dull," while from its summit "the tower of Babel would have been hardly more visible than one of the church spires of a Puget Sound city." Yet only as a national park, he cautioned in conclusion, would "its fame widen with the years," and "our great army of tourists gain a new pleasure, a larger artistic sense, and a higher inspiration from the contemplation of the grandeur and beauty of this St. Peter's of the skies." [1]

Again it remained for John Muir to sound a note of caution and thereby reveal the second and more important criterion of scenic preservation. Specifically, he feared the proposed park would in fact include only the high country and ignore the foothills where protection was required most. "The icy dome needs none of man's care," he maintained, "but unless the reserve is guarded the flower bloom will soon be killed, and nothing of the forests will be left but black stump monuments." [2]

Monumentalism, of course, was precisely what Congress had in mind. As Muir agonized, Congress' generosity in the Cascade Mountains, no less than in the Rockies or Sierra Nevada, was still bound by the compulsion to keep parks to the minimum area necessary for highlighting their focal "wonders." As written in 1899, the Mount Rainier Park Act failed to preserve many of the lowland environments Muir initially singled out as equally worthy of protection. Moreover, even above timberline Congress did not relax its caution. Just in case first impressions of the peak's worthlessness proved erroneous, Congress allowed both mining and exploring for minerals in the park to continue. A still more obvious concession to economic interests was perpetrated in the form of a land exchange between the government and the Northern Pacific Railroad. In return for the company's claim to portions of the mountain, the government allowed the line to select compensation from federal property in any other state served by its tracks. Naturally the trade worked to the advantage of the Northern Pacific, which divested itself of rugged, marginally-productive land at the expense of the nation at large. [3] Thus Mount Rainier National Park itself can be interpreted as an example of scenic preservation designed to the specifications of big business and frontier individualism, not the needs of the environment.

The prerequisite that national parks be worthless was also mandatory in the discussions leading to the protection of Crater Lake in Oregon. Originally the site formed the crest of ancient Mount Mazama, which, like Rainier, was once among the active volcanoes of the Cascade Range. Several thousand years ago a violent eruption capsized the summit and left the huge cavity in its stead. Over the centuries rain and melting snows filled the crater to a depth of nearly 2,000 feet. [4] It was therefore evident natural resources in the area would be limited; again the value of the wonderland was recognized to be strictly monumental. Among the earliest visitors to publicize Crater Lake in this vein was William Gladstone Steel, the Portland judge whose dedication and persistence led to park status in 1902. "To those living in New York City"—he said, offering the standard form of description—"I would say, Crater Lake is large enough to have Manhattan, Randall's, Wards and Blackwell's Island dropped into it, side by side without touching the walls, or, Chicago and Washington City might do the same." At Crater Lake "all ingenuity of nature seems to have been exerted to the fullest capacity to build one grand, awe-inspiring temple" the likes of which the world had never seen. [5]

Approval of the park by Congress, however, still hinged on proof of its worthlessness for all but the most marginal economic returns. In this vein Thomas H. Tongue of Oregon introduced Crater Lake to the House of Representatives as "a very small affair—only eighteen by twenty-two miles," containing "no agricultural land of any kind." Instead the proposed park was simply "a mountain, a little more than 9,000 feet in altitude, whose summit [had] been destroyed by volcanic action," and was "now occupied by a gigantic caldron nearly 6 miles in diameter and 4,000 feet in depth." In addition, he reassured his colleagues, he had insisted at the outset that the boundaries be laid out "so as to include no valuable land." The object of the bill was "simply to withdraw this land from public settlement [to protect] its great beauty and great scientific value." [6]

Few members of the House opposed the preservation of Crater Lake; they merely wished to make certain that a park would in fact protect no more than the wonder itself. John H. Stephens of Texas, for example, quizzed Representative Tongue about the potential for mineral deposits within the reserve proper. Tongue answered by repeating his assurance that "nothing of any value" was to be set aside. Yet the bill as introduced actually prohibited exploring for minerals. He clarified that the restriction was meant only to keep people from entering the reserve "under the name of prospecting" when their real intent was to destroy "the natural conditions of the park and the natural objects of beauty and interest." The House grew more skeptical, however; indeed, no one supported Tongue's confidence that the nearest mineral deposits of consequence were "in the other range of mountains opposite from" Crater Lake. Not until he had agreed to amend the bill to allow mining in the preserve did the House reconsider the motion and call for a vote. The compromise in effect negated wording that the national park was to be "forever." This phrase was the first recognition of the concept of "inalienable" preservation since the Yosemite Act of 1864. Thus amended, the Crater Lake park bill cleared the House, passed the Senate without debate, and received President Theodore Roosevelt's signature on May 23, 1902. [7]

As exemplified by the restriction of Mount Rainier and Crater Lake national parks to their focal wonders, the national park idea at the beginning of the twentieth century was little changed from its original purpose of protecting a unique visual experience. Those who challenged the inadequacy of the parks in terms of their size, moreover, still did so against growing pressures for systematic reductions of the reserves instead. The frustration of compromise was further compounded by the rising popularity of what has come to be called the "utilitarian" conservation movement. Professional foresters, for example, argued that trees should not be preserved indefinitely, but rather should be grown much like crops, albeit ones "harvested" at 50-, 75-, or 100-year intervals. Similarly, hydrologists and civil engineers maintained that rivers should be dammed and their waters distributed for irrigation, desert reclamation, and other "practical" ends; to allow natural drainage was considered "wasteful." Americans must work to stabilize their environment by manipulating natural cycles to achieve greater industrial and agricultural efficiency. Only then would mankind's historical dependence on the whims of nature be overcome. [8]

The persuasiveness of utilitarian conservation, as opposed to absolute preservation, lay in its obvious link with the pioneer ethic. After all, to use resources wisely was still to use them. It followed that advocates of the national parks remained at a great disadvantage. Not only did each park suffer from the reluctance of Congress to abolish outright any claims to existing resources, but also until park visitation itself measurably increased, preservationists had no recognized "use" of their own to counter the objections of those who considered scenic preservation an extravagance. In this regard the geography of preservation worked against the permanence of the national park idea. Although nine-tenths of the population lived in the eastern half of the country, prior to 1919 every major preserve was in the West. [9] On a positive note, each year the number of rail passengers to the national parks showed decided increases. Still, not until the 1920s, when mass production of the automobile democratized long-distance travel, were the reserves truly within reach of middle-class as well as upper-class visitors.

Meanwhile, a threatened shortage of natural resources only enhanced the prestige of the park idea's competing philosophy, utilitarian conservation. The Census Report of 1890 added a special note of immediacy to such fears by calling attention to dwindling supplies of timber and arable lands on the public domain. Congress responded in May 1891 with passage of the Forest Reserve Act, which slipped past opponents from the West in the confusion surrounding the close of the lame-duck session. But although the legislation was largely unpublicized, it was far-reaching. Under the act Congress gave the president unilateral authority to proclaim appropriate areas of the public domain forest reservations. President Benjamin Harrison acted promptly by designating 13,000,000 acres of the mountain West in this category by 1893. Subsequent additions by presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley swelled the system to approximately 46,000,000 acres. [10] Here the figure stood in September 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House in the wake of McKinley's assassination.

With the accession of Roosevelt, the prominence of utilitarian conservation over scenic preservation was virtually guaranteed. By the end of his administration he had tripled the national forest system in the West to its present size of nearly 150,000,000 acres. In addition, he strongly endorsed most of the tenets of utilitarian conservation still practiced today, including land reclamation, forestry, and leasing of the public domain. [11] These were policies preservationists also supported; what dismayed them was the tendency of utilitarian conservationists to deny categorically the legitimacy of scenic protection. Utilitarianists argued instead that the failure to seek out natural resources, wherever located, was every bit as wasteful as traditional abuses of the environment. "The first duty of the human race is to control the earth it lives upon," stated Roosevelt's chief advisor, Gifford Pinchot. [12] Strict preservation, in short, benefited no one. In 1905 Congress vindicated Pinchot by authorizing the U.S. Forest Service. Not only was he appointed chief forester, but also in keeping with his firm conviction that trees should not be protected for their beauty alone but rather managed as crops, Congress placed the new bureau under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [13]

That establishment of the Forest Service coincided with the reduction of Yosemite National Park was symbolic of the emerging power structure within the conservation movement as a whole. While esthetic advocates still struggled to consolidate their gains, resource managers enjoyed growing popularity and prestige. After all, only in means, not ends, did utilitarian conservationists break with the pioneer spirit of the nation. As scientists they merely promised America a new frontier of technological innovation and expansion. The conservation of natural resources, as opposed to the establishment of national parks, meant to regulate use rather than totally restrict it. Indeed, at every opportunity Gifford Pinchot and his counterparts assured cattlemen, lumbermen, and miners that the government had no intention of "locking up" the bounty of the public domain, but merely wished to insure its long-term productivity through "efficient" and "proper" management. [14] From an economic standpoint scenic preservationists had nothing comparable to support their ideology; by its very nature scenic protection hinged on the exclusion of logging, mining, or grazing. One approach to the problem, of course, was to demonstrate how tourism might generate more revenue than that achieved by exploiting the limited resources of the parks. The argument, however, simply lacked credibility until greater numbers of people did in fact visit the reserves.

Expansion of the national park system still relied on scenic nationalism. The one overriding criterion was proof that the territory set aside was, as claimed, worthless for all ends but preservation. With settlement of the American Southwest in particular, Indian ruins and artifacts were jeopardized by souvenir hunters and other vandals. Among those aroused by the impending loss of these treasures was John F. Lacey, an Iowa congressman. A staunch preservationist in his own right, in 1906 he pushed a bill through Congress to preserve all "objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States." The bill's obvious departure from national parks' legislation was Lacey's emphasis on artifacts as distinct from scenic wonders. Still, his identical motivation was much in evidence with the provision that the new sites be called national monuments. [15]

The continuing influence of cultural nationalism also stood out in the title of the bill: "An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities." Never before had the nation so openly admitted that doubts about its past were in fact a primary catalyst for scenic preservation. As established by precedent with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, Congress left the choice of sites to be set aside solely to the president. As a result, although the Antiquities Act did not provide for the protection of landscapes per se, the discretion accorded the president likewise afforded him the opportunity to broaden the impact of the legislation considerably. To be sure, it was by means of the Antiquities Act that Theodore Roosevelt broke with the utilitarian leanings of his administration and won himself the lasting respect of preservationists as well. Almost immediately he interpreted the word "scientific" to include areas noted for their geologic (hence scenic) as well as man-made significance. Thus Devils Tower, an imposing monolith of volcanic basalt rising 865 feet above the plains of northeastern Wyoming, became the first national monument on September 24, 1906. Three additional sites followed in December—Petrified Forest and Montezuma Castle, both in Arizona, and El Morro, New Mexico, also known as Inscription Rock. The rock, with its carvings by ancient tribes, early Spanish explorers, and American adventurers, qualified for protection with the castle—a magnificent five-story cliff dwelling—as an historic structure. Similarly, Petrified Forest met the spirit of the Antiquities Act as a scientific phenomenon. Unfortunately, its prehistoric giants, which had solidified into colorful mineral formations, already had been vandalized extensively by rock hunters and other collectors. [16]

Any lack of objection to these monuments, nonetheless, still could not be laid to widespread public support for Roosevelt's initiative. More to the point, none of the areas set aside to date had been large enough to interfere with the material progress of the West. The same assurance could not be offered as readily in the case of two of his later contributions to the national monument system. Following another year distinguished only by the protection of Indian cliff dwellings and obviously "worthless" wonders on the order of Lassen Peak, California—a volcano—early in 1908 President Roosevelt declared a national monument of more than 800,000 acres surrounding the Grand Canyon of Arizona, famed as the outstanding "textbook" of erosion and rock stratification in the world. Yet despite the chasm's unmistakable value for scientific research, clearly the president had stretched the intent of the Antiquities Act beyond the limit. Indeed, as if to invite a serious challenge to his authority, just before leaving office, on March 3, 1909, he provided equivalent protection for 600,000 acres of land encircling Washington state's Mount Olympus. [17]

In neither case had President Roosevelt adhered to the guidelines of the Antiquities Act to preserve only man-made wonders or scientific curiosities. In "all instances," the act stated, each monument must be "confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected." Whatever their scientific worth, the Grand Canyon and Mount Olympus were far from mere "objects." Still, for the moment Congress had no reason to restrain the president's initiative. Much as in the case of the national parks proper, neither the Grand Canyon nor Mount Olympus seemed to be of immediate economic value. Small deposits of minerals had been unearthed in the Grand Canyon, but the chasm was so rugged and inaccessible that no prospector had seriously attempted to bring them out. Similarly, Mount Olympus National Monument, although partially forested, lay walled in behind the peaks of the Olympic Peninsula. When lumbermen did in fact penetrate the region a few years afterward, President Woodrow Wilson, in accordance with the nation's traditional precondition for scenic preservation, in 1915 reduced the monument by its most valuable half. [18]

The lasting significance of the Antiquities Act lay in its title and decree that the new reserves be called "national monuments." Rarely had the nation so openly revealed that its efforts to protect the uniqueness of the West had been strongly motivated by the search for cultural identity. Americans now made the dwellings of prehistoric Indians suffice for the absence of Greek and Roman ruins in the New World. It followed that the more impressive monuments eventually would be considered for national park status. Prior to winning the honor, they, too, simply had to be proven worthless.

The establishment of government agencies determined to practice utilitarian ethics only sharpened the conflict between those who wished to preserve the national parks intact and those who considered full protection unjustified. Originally, legislation establishing the parks had been worded to anticipate any change in their value. Now the bills included specific references to the rights of competing government bureaus as well. The Reclamation Service, created by Congress in 1902 to construct and regulate dams and irrigation works throughout the West, complemented the Forest Service as the most prominent agency to win these concessions. Reclamation was the one major form of development in its infancy when Yosemite and Yellowstone parks were created. To be sure, if more had been known then about the potential of their rivers and canyons for hydroelectric power and water storage, in all likelihood the national park idea as thought of today, with wild streams and broad expanses of wilderness as well as scenic wonders, would have stood even less chance of coming to fruition.

The knowledge of past oversight made Congress even more determined to restrict the national parks to the minimum area necessary for public access to their prominent features. The establishment of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906, for instance, was facilitated by limiting its area to a series of Indian cliff dwellings and adjacent rugged terrain in southwestern Colorado. [19] By way of contrast, the Glacier and Rocky Mountain national park projects, whose territories were to be substantially larger, aroused suspicions among the standard variety of local, regional, and national economic interests. None were more influential than the Forest Service and Reclamation Service. Both now strongly opposed expansion of the national park system as being contrary to the proper management of the public domain. Although preservationists argued that even existing national parks had been proven barren of most natural resources, the rebuttal was still ineffective. Never before had technology so forcefully demonstrated that lands once considered worthless might become otherwise. Thus only if park legislation guaranteed the utilitarian agencies the option to enter and use the reserves wherever feasible could preservationists hope for their antagonists' even qualified endorsement of the national park idea.

The terms of the Glacier park bill impressed preservationists with the growing power and prestige of the Forest Service and Reclamation Service. Among the project's champions were George Bird Grinnell, author, sportsman, and explorer, [20] and Louis W. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway. Grinnell, a New York City gentleman of means, provided the initial impetus for the park following his exploration of northwestern Montana in 1885. His commitment to scenic protection was already a matter of record. Angered by vandalism and poaching within Yellowstone National Park, he was among those whose drive for better management of the reserve brought the U.S. Cavalry to its rescue in 1886. [21] Like John Muir he now turned to the popular press to arouse support for his beliefs. One of his more insightful vignettes of western Montana appeared in the September 1901 issue of Century Magazine, the same publication so skillfully used a decade previously by Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson in calling attention to the fate of Yosemite Valley and its environs. [22]

Grinnell's explanation of the need to protect what is now Glacier National Park soon won the endorsement of Louis W. Hill. The son of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway, Louis shared his father's instinct for a profitable investment. Following his succession to the presidency of the line in 1907, therefore, he promoted the Glacier wilderness as the rival of Yellowstone and Yosemite Valley. Of course his incentive was the knowledge that the Great Northern, which closely paralleled the southern boundary of the proposed park, would enjoy a virtual monopoly over passenger traffic. [23]

Still, Congress remained skeptical about the project until the region had been scrutinized to the satisfaction of everyone concerned, including, and especially, those with potential claims to its wealth. Thus although the park bill was introduced in 1908, it was not approved until two years later and then only after many second thoughts. Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania set the tone of the deliberations. Speaking in support of the bill's sponsors, senators Thomas H. Carter and Joseph M. Dixon of Montana, in January 1910 he opened debate on a personal, although familiar note. "I have hunted and traveled over almost every inch of the [Glacier] country," he began. It "is one of the grandest scenic sections in the United States, absolutely unfit for cultivation or habitation, and as far as I know not possessing any mineral resources." Only after this disclaimer did he then proclaim the region "admirably adapted for a park." But still his colleagues were in no hurry to reach a decision; therefore when debate resumed in February, it remained for Senator Dixon to remind them of Glacier's worthlessness for all but scenic enjoyment. "This is an area," he said, "of about 1,400 square miles of mountains piled on top of each other. " Such territory was much too rugged to be exploited; "there is no agricultural land whatever," he confirmed. "Nothing is taken from anyone. The rights of the few settlers and entrymen are protected in the bill." [24] At last won over by constant repetition of the worthless-lands argument, the Senate voted in favor of the national park.

Although the discussion in the House was brief, an amendment tacked onto the legislation required conferees from both branches to iron out their differences. Once more Senator Dixon defended his assessment that Glacier was useless for all but park status. Of course skeptics, among them Senator Joseph W. Bailey of Texas, still remained. "It will involve a considerable expenditure of public money to make much of a park out of mountains piled on top of each other," he maintained. But finally, he, too, conceded that preservation was "as good a use as can be made of that land." In the unlikely event resources were discovered, however, the act provided for mining, settlement, reclamation, and sustained-yield forestry in the park. Section 1, for example, empowered the Reclamation Service to "enter upon and utilize for flowage or other purposes any area within said park which may be necessary for the development and maintenance of a government reclamation project." Similarly, as a concession to the Forest Service, the secretary of the interior was authorized to "sell and permit the removal of such matured, or dead or down timbers as he may deem necessary or advisable for the protection or improvement of the park." The contradiction was obvious; precisely how logging might "protect" or "improve" Glacier was not spelled out. In reality the provision was another blank check for development in case there were possible changes in knowledge about the region and its "worth." Thus amended, the Glacier National Park bill was approved on May 11, 1910. [25]

Sixty miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, lay the high country proposed for inclusion in Rocky Mountain national park. Again, a similar set of restrictions confirmed the preeminence of utilitarian conservation over scenic preservation. Even before a park bill was introduced on Capitol Hill in 1915, sponsors of the project had been forced to reduce its intended area by two-thirds to quiet protests from mining and grazing interests. [26] The Senate, apparently satisfied, did not debate the measure, but discussion in the House was quite spirited. Predictably, the bill's sponsor, Representative Edward T. Taylor of Colorado, espoused the beauty yet uselessness of the area under review. The park would be "marvelously beautiful," he began; then he injected a dose of nationalism, stating that the region surpassed "Switzerland in the varied glory of its magnificence." It followed that such rugged topography supported "comparatively little timber of merchantable value" and the altitude was much "too great for practical farming." The territory simply had "no value for anything but scenery." This was not merely his opinion, he added, but the consensus of "thousands [of people] from all over the world." But although the House now passed the bill, both branches of Congress made certain that it provided for railroaders, prospectors, and the Reclamation Service to enter and use Rocky Mountain National Park, just in case Congressman Taylor and the other supporters of the park were mistaken. [27]

If preservationists once hoped that Congress did not seriously intend to open the national parks to development where feasible, the return of the best timber, mineral, and grasslands of Yosemite National Park to the public domain in 1905 was unavoidable evidence to the contrary. And already the park had become the setting for a still greater and more dramatic controversy. As early as 1882 the city of San Francisco looked to the canyons of the High Sierra for a permanent fresh-water supply. Eight years later, however, the site considered most ideal for a dam and reservoir, Hetch Hetchy Valley, was included in Yosemite National Park. The potential for conflict sharpened as preservationists came to appreciate that Hetch Hetchy was the rival of Yosemite Valley itself. Indeed, the prominent cliffs and waterfalls of the two gorges were strikingly identical. The Tuolumne River completed the resemblance by splitting the floor of Hetch Hetchy, much as the Merced River divides Yosemite. The former's claim to distinction was wildness. The absence of roads retained for Hetch Hetchy the wilderness charms long ago sacrificed to tourism in Yosemite, including meadows, open woodlands, and an abundance of wildflowers. In either case, preservationists considered the nation extremely fortunate to have a single wonderland of its type; the fact there were two was cause for celebration indeed. [28]

San Francisco, however, was adamant against looking elsewhere for its source of fresh water. The very ruggedness which included Hetch Hetchy among the nation's great natural wonders fated it to remain the favorite site for the dam. From a technical standpoint nothing stood in the way of the project; the one and only major obstacle was Hetch Hetchy's location within a national park.

Time, moreover, was on the side of San Francisco. In 1901, following completion of the city's engineering report, Mayor James D. Phelan petitioned the secretary of the interior, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, for permission to dam the gorge. Hitchcock, however, whose sympathies lay with preservationists, denied the request in 1903 as "not in keeping with the public interest." [29] San Francisco simply waited for a more opportune moment to resubmit its proposal; city fathers, after all, needed no reminder that Hitchcock's term of office would not last forever.

Following his resignation four years later, San Francisco filed a new request. As had been expected, Hitchcock's successor, James A. Garfield, was far more receptive to the idea of damming Hetch Hetchy. An early barometer of his position was his close association with Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, whom Garfield greatly admired. As a result, his decision the following year to grant San Francisco's second petition came as no surprise. [30]

Approval of the permit set the stage for the greatest cause celebre in the early history of the national park movement in the United States. [31] For preservationists the stakes were especially high. Prior schemes to exclude lands and resources from the national parks, particularly Yosemite, for the most part had been limited to the edges of the reserves. Generally speaking, foothills predominated in these areas; preservationists themselves often shared honest differences of opinion about the suitability of giving national park status to commonplace topography. The Hetch Hetchy issue invited no such spirit of compromise. Developers and preservationists no longer battled for the fringes of a national park, but for the very heart of one. Conceivably, the outcome would determine whether or not the national park idea itself could survive. If even the inner sanctum of Yosemite could not be protected in perpetuity, no national park, then or in the future, could be considered safe from exploitation.

The Hetch Hetchy controversy was indeed a struggle over precedent. Both before Congress and in the popular press, esthetic conservationists justified their crusade as an effort to prevent what they considered to be the inevitable ruination of the national park idea. Thus when Congress made its decision, in the closing months of 1913, preservationists believed they had suffered a major setback. By wide majorities both houses upheld the Garfield permit of 1908 and allowed San Francisco to begin construction of its reservoir. [32]

From the start preservationists had been at a disadvantage. First, it was still too early to demonstrate widespread public interest in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The argument that two or three thousand enthusiasts camped on its floor every season could not prevail against the rejoinder that 500,000 San Franciscans needed fresh water. Similarly, to contend that Hetch Hetchy was a second Yosemite was, in effect, to admit that the valley was the opposite of unique. Opponents were quick to ask that if the nation already had one Yosemite, why did it need two? [33] "The question [is] whether the preservation of a scenic gem is of more consequence than the needs of a great and growing community," wrote John P. Young, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Although he agreed "the meadows and trees of the valley would be submerged," preservationists had failed to consider that "the immense reservoir created would substitute in their place a vastly more attractive feature" and "a far more powerful attraction to persons in search of inspiring scenery than the eliminated beauties of the past." The lake would "still be enclosed by towering peaks and massive walls, and the falls of the Hetch Hetchy [would] still tumble"; in addition, all of these features would be mirrored "in the waters of the new creation." Granted, some of the "present adornments will disappear," Young admitted, but "in their place will be substituted that which will make Hetch-Hetchy incomparable and cause it to rank as one of the world's great scenic wonders." [34]

San Francisco engineers illustrated the claim by retouching a photograph to suggest how the valley would look once the reservoir had filled. Few scenes promised a more idyllic result. Not a ripple stirred the lake; rather its surface reflected the cliffs and waterfalls with mirror-like precision. [35] But preservationists challenged the conception, asserting that in reality the reservoir would be ringed by ugly mudflats and bleached rocks, especially when the water level fell during periods of peak demand. "Under conditions of nature lakes occur," stated J. Horace McFarland, one of the project's leading opponents, while "under conditions brought about by men ponds are created. Flooding the Hetch Hetchy will make a valley of unmatched beauty simply a pond, a reservoir, and nothing else." [36]

The photograph, although contrived, was symbolic of the dilemma preservationists faced in updating their own traditions. Except for an occasional prophet such as John Muir or Frederick Law Olmsted, for almost half a century preservationists, like San Francisco's "ghost" photographer, had sought to win converts by highlighting the extraordinary. By and large national parks were considered a visual experience; their purpose was not to preserve nature as an integral whole, but to seek out the most impressive waterfalls, canyons, and mountain peaks of the West. With the Hetch Hetchy controversy the pitfalls of this perspective came sharply into focus. Before preservationists learned to verbalize the valley's other redeeming values, especially its wildness, time ran out. On December 19, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation granting San Francisco all rights to the gorge. [37]

The city's trump was proof that Hetch Hetchy could be used for something more than recreation. Thus, even as the national park idea matured, the belief that its units must remain worthless exacted built-in limitations on ecological needs long before these needs came to be realized. Utilitarian agencies compounded the dilemma by reserving to themselves the right of future access to national park resources, especially water-power sites. It followed that preservationists must identify and publicize those methods by which the parks could pay dividends to the national purse without being destroyed in the process. The need for haste was evident; if history, at least, were any indication, the likes of the Hetch Hetchy controversy could be expected again.

E. B. Thompson Negative Collection National Park Service
The Sunday finery of these tourists, visiting a thermal basin in Yellowstone at the turn of the century, confirms the view of Yellowstone's first explorers, who saw the region as a future "resort" rather than a wilderness preserve.
Stephen T. Mather, first director of the National Park Service, was instrumental in furthering a "pragmatic alliance" between the western railroads and the Park Service. The North Coast Limited was the premier passenger train of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which was one of five major lines serving Yellowstone National Park.
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Cars meet Yellowstone-bound passengers beside the train at Gardiner, Montana, in June 1930. Only fifteen years earlier, trains and stagecoaches had enjoyed a monopoly of national park patronage.
Mark R. Daniels, while superintendent of national parks in 1915, said that Americans who spent from fifty to one hundred million dollars annually to visit the Alps "are taking this money out of the United States to spend it in foreign lands upon a commodity that is inferior to the home product." As part of the "See America First" campaign, these waitresses at Glacier National Park in 1933 recreated Switzerland in the American wilderness.
The western railroads played up the romantic side of tourism in advertisements like this one from the December 1910 issue of McClure's.
National Archives
The National Park Service interpretative program, inaugurated in the 1920s, led tourists off the road to such places as Mount Stanton, Glacier National Park.
Union Pacific Railroad Photograph by Wayne B. Alcorn, courtesy of the National Park Service, Bryce Canyon National Park An advertising artist's conception of Bryce Canyon from the May 1927 issue of National Geographic Magazine, above, contrasts fancifully with a photograph of two actual formations, Thor's Hammer and the Temple of Osiris, below. The advertisement also attempts to link Bryce Canyon with the architecture of Europe and the Orient. Hileman Photograph, Courtesy of the National Archives The Great Northern Railway purchased the site of Glacier Park Lodge from the Piegan Indians and retained a group of Indians to meet the trains. The lodge, now owned by Glacier Park, Inc., is still outside the national park proper. Hileman photograph courtesy of the National Archives Glacier Park Lodge, opened by the Great Northern Railway in 1913, at first was welcomed by preservationists who thought that the tourists it attracted would support the national park idea. The great timbers in the lobby are Douglas fir, with the bark on. It is the only national park hotel, except for Mount McKinley Hotel in Alaska, that is directly accessible by long-line passenger trains. Unlike the railroads, automobiles won admittance to the parks themselves and, once inside, could go almost anywhere. Oliver Lippincott, a Los Angeles photographer, posed on Glacier Point, Yosemite, with a horseless carriage, a flag, and a lady who may represent motherhood.


National Parks: The American Experience
©1997, University of Nebraska Press
runte1/chap4.htm — 17-Mar-2004