National Parks
The American Experience
NPS Arrowhead logo

Chapter 6:
Complete Conservation

Our national parks system is a national museum. Its purpose is to preserve forever . . . certain areas of extraordinary scenic magnificence in a condition of primitive nature. Its recreational value is also very great, but recreation is not distinctive of the system. The function which alone distinguishes the national parks . . . is the museum function made possible only by the parks' complete conservation.

Robert Sterling Yard, 1923

It is now recognized that [national] Parks contain more than scenery.

Harold C. Bryant, co-founder,
Yosemite Free Nature Guide Service,

The success of the "See America First" campaign reassured preservationists that the national parks would survive in some form. Still open to question was whether they would survive as originally established. Hetch Hetchy was only the most recent example of the resistance of Congress to larger parks on the order of Yellowstone, whose expanse protected (if unintentionally) other natural values besides scenic wonders. The growing belief that total preservation should in fact be the role of national parks in the twentieth century only heightened the tension regarding their integrity. Increasingly Americans recalled the pronouncement of the Census Bureau in 1890 that the frontier was no more. Indeed "it has girdled the globe," Mary Roberts Rinehart confirmed in May 1921 for readers of the Ladies' Home Journal. "And, unless we are very careful," she cautioned, "soon there will be no reminders of the old West," including "the last national resource the American people have withheld from commercial exploitation, their parks." That others had said as much did nothing to lessen the urgency of her own statement. Outside the parks it seemed the transformation of the West would be total. Plans to dam the Columbia River, for example, already threatened the perspective of those who would imagine Lewis and Clark reaching out "on their adventurous journey into the unknown." Soon the river would "be harnessed, like Niagara, and turning a million wheels. Our wild life gone with our Indians, our waterfalls harnessed and our rivers laboring, our mountains groaning that they might bring forth power, soon all that will be left of our great past," she restated emphatically, "will be our national parks." [1]

As a catalyst of the national park idea, the search for an American past through landscape was nothing new. The difference in articles such as Mrs. Rinehart's lay in their insistence that the national park idea would not be fully realized until all components of the American scene were represented. The preservation of a sense of history itself, for example, as recalled through broad expanses of native, living landscapes, was coming to be considered as crucial to establishing the identity of the United States as the protection of specific natural wonders. It followed that preservationists might, for the first time, draw a clear distinction between all parks and national parks. Formality of any kind, Mrs. Rinehart herself believed, smacked too much of the city park experience. In the West one came to appreciate "that a park could be more than a neat and civilized place, with green benches and public tennis courts." The word "park" itself was "misleading." "It is too small a name," she maintained, "too definitely associated with signs and asphalt and tameness." [2] Indeed, one of the more noticeable outcomes of the Hetch Hetchy controversy was preservationists' determination to defend the parks as a vestige of primitive America. "In this respect a national and a city park are wholly different," two vertebrate zoologists, Joseph Grinnell and Tracy Storer, agreed in 1916. "A city park is of necessity artificial...; but a national park is at its inception entirely natural and is generally thereafter kept fairly immune from human interference." [3]

Notable exceptions in the parks included the lodges and grand hotels, which, however rustic, still could not seriously be considered "entirely natural." If most preservationists did not insist that the parks be kept absolutely free of development, it was in appreciation of the need to attract more visitors, or—as in the case of Hetch Hetchy—risk far more damaging forms of commercial enterprise. Yet "the great hotels are dwarfed by the mountains around them, lost in the trees," Mrs. Rinehart assured her readers. "The wilderness is there, all around them, so close that the timid wild life creeps to their very doors." [4]

Such concessions were necessary until patronage in the parks reached a level sufficient to justify the protection of both animate and inanimate scenery. To be sure, hardly had Stephen T. Mather taken office as director of the National Park Service than ranchers and farmers in the state of Idaho launched a concerted effort to tap Yellowstone Lake and the falls of the Bechler River—in the southwestern corner of Yellowstone Park—for irrigation. [5] Preservationists quickly perceived the scheme as a threat to their own proposal to extend the boundaries of the park southward to include portions of the Thorofare Basin, Jackson Hole, and the Teton Mountains. The addition, they maintained, was necessary if Yellowstone were now to be managed along natural rather than political boundaries. Out of the plan emerged Grand Teton National Park, established in 1929 as a "roadless" preserve. Any pretext that the park was a serious break with tradition, however, was dispelled by failure to include the lowlands and wildlife habitat of Jackson Hole.

It remained instead for Everglades National Park, Florida, authorized in 1934, to mark the first unmistakable pledge to total preservation. The commitment seemed all the more convincing in light of the kind of topography represented in the Everglades. For the first time a major national park would lack great mountains, deep canyons, and tumbling waterfalls; preservationists accepted the protection of its native plants and animals alone as justification for Everglades National Park. Later fears that its pristine character might also be sacrificed to development stemmed from mounting pressure to restrict the park to an area considerably under the ceiling approved by Congress. In the quest for total preservation, no less than the retention of significant natural wonders, the worthlessness of the area in question was still the only guarantee of effecting a successful outcome.

A California camper, facing the perils of the roadside to shoot a bison in Wind Cave National Park, illustrates the impact of the automobile upon the way modern American tourists see the national parks.
Hileman photograph, courtesy of the National Archives
These touring cars of the 1920s, east of St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park, were the precursors of the modern air-conditioned tour buses operated by park concessionaires.
Courtesy of the National Archives
Before being toppled by heavy snowfall in the winter of 1969, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, in the Mariposa Redwood Grove of Yosemite National Park, was the scene of countless snapshots, publicity stunts, and gags, usually involving cars. Above, a carriage carrying President Theodore Roosevelt (standing tallest in the carriage) and John Muir (partly hidden, second from left) visits the landmark in May 1903. Courtesy of the National Park Service
The elaborate masonry, turnouts, and tunnels of National Park Service roads helped to make the parks a unique visual experience for motorists. Above, an automobile negotiates the east slope of the Logan Pass (Going-to-the-Sun) Highway in Glacier National Park. Below, the dedication of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, July 15, 1933. brought dignitaries, Indians, and a brass band to their feet for the singing of "America."

George A. Grant Collection, courtesy of the National Pack Service
The rapid growth of automobile traffic encouraged the development of areas on the fringes of the national parks like West Yellowstone, Montana, shown here in August 1939. George A. Grant Collection, Courtesy of the National Park Service The automobile has been accused of contributing to the degradation of wildlife in the national parks, particularly by causing changes in habits and feeding patterns; here, a buck deer begs at a car in Yellowstone, 1926.
Tourists pose on the Auto Log in Sequoia National Park during the summer of 1929.
Visitors regularly speak of the national parks as Nature's cathedrals; Easter sunrise services were first offered at Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley in 1932.
Cecil W. Stoughton photograph, courtesy of the National Park Service
Modern snowmobilists watch an eruption of Old Faithful. By opening the parks to new recreational machines, critics say, the National Park Service is paying more heed to the whims of visitors than to the complex needs of park environments.

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Bert Taylor, United States skating champion, performs at the Yosemite Winterclub in February 1937. Preservationists protest that an ice rink, let alone such theatrics, is an amusement more appropriate to big cities and resorts than to a park set aside to preserve a natural environment. A workman removes debris from Blue Star Spring while Old Faithful erupts in the background, March 1968. Too many callous visitors bring too many pop bottles. Grizzlies and gulls hold visitors' fascination at the bear feeding grounds near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone sometime during the 1930s. The twilight "shows" were last held in the fall of 1945, but the question of bears and garbage in Yellowstone is still controversial.

The conviction that national parks were fast becoming the last vestiges of primitive America was an important catalyst for management of their resources as a whole. Since the creation of Yosemite and Yellowstone, in 1864 and 1872 respectively, the overriding criterion for the selection of national parks was the presence of natural wonders. Occasionally Congress seemed aware that the parks might fill other roles; the Yellowstone Act, for example, provided against "the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit." [6] But precisely what was meant by "wanton destruction" was open to broad interpretation. Nor can it be argued seriously that game conservation inspired Yellowstone National Park. It remained for sportsmen and explorers such as George Bird Grinnell, co-founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, to impress upon the secretary of the interior and the Congress the need for better wildlife protection in Yellowstone. [7] Of course, simply to provide shelter for the animals could hardly be called game management; both the science and public appreciation of its importance did not mature until the twentieth century. [8]

The federal government still weighed new parks primarily on the basis of their physical endowments; only then might other factors bearing on the decision to establish a reserve be openly advanced. "So with the Yellowstone," Stephen T. Mather asserted in the National Parks Portfolio, in 1916; "all have heard of its geysers, but few indeed of its thirty-three-hundred square miles of wilderness beauty." The inclusion of wilderness in the park in 1872 had been purely unintentional. The park "is associated in the public mind with geysers only," Robert Sterling Yard, author of the Portfolio, agreed. "There never was a greater mistake. Were there no geysers, the Yellowstone watershed alone, with its glowing canyon, would be worth the national park." Of course the chasm was a scenic wonder in its own right. But "were there also no canyon," Yard continued, "the scenic wilderness and its incomparable wealth of wild-animal life would be worth the national park." [9]

Seen in light of his capacity as Mather's director of public relations, Yard's assessment could be interpreted as a sign of new directions in park management. Free distribution of the National Parks Portfolio to 275,000 leading Americans underscored the significance of his and Mather's reappraisal of the role of national parks. What they initially envisioned as a publicity volume was in fact an invitation to join in rethinking the national park idea. "That these parks excelled in grandeur and variety the combined scenic exhibits of other principal nations moved the national pride," Yard recalled. Now Americans were awakening to the realization that the national parks "embodied in actual reality . . . a mighty system of national museums of the primitive American wilderness." Indeed "the national parks are much more than a playground," Mary Roberts Rinehart agreed. "They are a refuge. They bring rest to their human visitors, but they give life to uncounted numbers of wild creatures." Certainly the animals "are of no less consequence than the scenery," Joseph Grinnell and Tracy Storer concurred. "To the natural charm of the landscape they add the witchery of movement." Management of the national parks ultimately must consider the sum total of these phenomena. "Herein lies the feature of supreme value in national parks," the naturalists concluded in defending their assessment; "they furnish examples of the earth as it was before the advent of the white man." [10]

Like the analogy that natural wonders served as cultural mileposts, the claim that primitive America might be suspended in the national parks promised to secure the national park idea for the future. Destruction of the reserves, for example, might be decried as dismembering the bond between history and prehistory. In this vein public education stood to become a beneficiary of complete conservation; indeed the national park system, Robert Sterling Yard lamented, "may be compared to a school equipped with every educational device, filled with eager pupils [but] with no teachers." Both individually and collectively, the reserves provided a superb illustration of "the geological sequence of America's making," of "the tremendous processes of the upbuilding of gigantic mountain systems, their destruction by erosion, and their rebuilding." Similarly, Yard added: "In all of them wild life conditions remain untouched." [11]

The latter, unfortunately, was not yet the case. Actually the National Park Service pursued a vigorous program against predators well into the 1930s. As early as October 1920, for example, Stephen T. Mather reported a "very gratifying increase in deer and other species that always suffer through the depredations of mountain lion, wolves, and other 'killers.'" In truth the application of "complete conservation" to both wildlife and landscapes was still largely compromised by human values and emotions. Until the evolution of that degree of detachment based on ecological understanding, allowances would continue to be made for "desirable" as opposed to "undesirable" features of the natural world. This major lapse in objectivity aside, however, the defense of total preservation as a vehicle for education still had considerable appeal. After all, the promotion of national parks as America's "outdoor classrooms" was a practical rationale for preserving "living" landscapes as well as natural wonders. "It seems to have been demonstrated that Uncle Sam's famous playgrounds have a much greater value than merely that of attracting tourists to see geysers and glaciers and waterfalls," summed up one supporter. The reserves, agreed Stephen Mather, "in addition to being ideal recreation areas, serve also as field laboratories for the study of nature." [12]

The first park museums and interpretive programs, which appeared in the 1920s, formally recognized the educational role of scenic preservation. Instructing visitors in complete conservation, however, was to prove far easier than actually applying the theory. Congress still resisted additions to the parks which would compensate for their existing limitations. Moreover, in the face of opposition from vested economic interests, efforts to expand the park system had little chance of success unless the new areas themselves were restricted in size. Invariably they, too, stressed physical phenomena. Because the parks were meant to take in only scenic wonders, such as a mountain or canyon, they failed to include enough habitat to give sanctuary to all resident species of plants and animals.

No one, of course, opposed additions to the park system of a traditional nature; by no means had the United States protected representative examples of every major kind of landscape. Those close to the issue of total conservation might also overlook their setbacks amid the excitement of rediscovering the wonders of the continent. John Burroughs, for example, was one of several contemporary naturalists who still reached the height of popularity with a style of description more suggestive of nineteenth-century explorers. "In the East, the earth's wounds are virtually all healed," he noted in 1911, "but in the West they are yet raw and gaping, if not bleeding." The Grand Canyon in particular did "indeed suggest a far-off, half-sacred antiquity, some greater Jerusalem, Egypt, Babylon, or India," he wrote. "We speak of it as a scene; it is more like a vision, so foreign is it to all other terrestrial spectacles, and so surpassingly beautiful." [13]

As Burroughs reminded his readers, the stark landforms of the Southwest provided Americans yet another opportunity to achieve a semblance of historical continuity through landscape. The protection of the region's outstanding natural wonders was therefore a strong possibility. Grand Canyon National Monument, set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt in January 1908, was preceded only by Petrified Forest National Monument, proclaimed two years earlier to protect the remnants of an ancient woodland in eastern Arizona. Later, in 1919, Congress elevated the Grand Canyon to full national park status. The same year marked the creation of Zion National Park, Utah, located approximately 100 air miles to the north. Justly renowned as "the Yosemite of the Desert" by virtue of its steep, brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs, Zion itself had nearby rivals, most notably Bryce Canyon, dedicated as a national park in 1928, and Cedar Breaks National Monument, established five years later. [14]

The inclusion of these unique areas in the park system rounded out what another popular writer, Rufus Steele, dubbed "the Celestial Circuit." (The route has since been broadened with the creation of several parklands of the same genre, including Canyonlands [1964], Arches [1971], and Capitol Reef [1971].) "It leads to canyons set about with majestic peaks," he depicted, "and to other canyons that are filled with cathedrals and colonnades, ramparts and rooms, terraces and temples, turrets and towers, obelisks and organs," and similar "incredible products of erosion." In testimony to the excitement aroused by his descriptions, during the late 1920s the Union Pacific Railroad resurrected the "See America First" campaign as part of a massive publicity effort to attract rail travelers to the region. "The Grand Canyon?" one of the railroad's posters asked. "Nowhere on the face of the globe is there anything like it." But even Bryce Canyon, although far smaller, was no less worthy of a rail pilgrimage west. Its "great side walls are fluted like giant cathedral organs," the Union Pacific insisted. "Other architectural rockforms tower upward in vast spires and minarets—marbly white and flaming pink." Royalty itself seemed present, "high on painted pedestals" and "startlingly real. Figures of Titans, of kings and queens!" Finally came Zion, with "tremendous temples and towers" rising "sheer four-fifths of a mile into the blue Utah sky." Surely, therefore, "every true American" would want to see the wonders of his own country first, especially those covered through out the Southwest "on an exclusive Union Pacific tour." [15]

New mountain-based national parks likewise affirmed that monumentalism was still a preeminent force behind the advancement of scenic preservation. Included among the reserves established in 1916 were Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the islands of Hawaii and Maui. The following year Congress added Mount McKinley in Alaska to the park system, ostensibly as a game preserve. Yet, ecologically speaking, all of the new parks were disappointments. Much like their predecessors, they, too, were rugged, restricted in size, or, regardless of their area, compromised to accommodate economic claims to the detriment of preservation objectives. Congress still allowed mining in Mount McKinley National Park, for instance; moreover, the prospectors might kill "game or birds as they may be needed for their actual necessities when short of food." To say nothing of the mining, the discretion accorded the hunters seriously undercut any pretensions of wildlife conservation in the reserve. [16] In either case, preservation had not been achieved without rugged scenery as its focus, in this instance Mount McKinley.

Proof that the United States was indeed committed to wildlife protection in the national parks could not seriously be demonstrated until Congress recognized the parks because of their wildlife instead of their imposing topography. For example, the establishment of reserves in the East, whose landforms were relatively modest, would confirm the nation's sincerity to protect other natural values besides scenery. As early as 1894 the North Carolina Press Association petitioned Congress for a national park in the state; five years later the Appalachian National Park Association, organized at Asheville, seconded the proposal. Other preservation groups rapidly followed suit, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, the American Civic Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It still remained for Mount Desert Island, a rugged fragment of Maine seacoast, to form the nucleus of the first eastern park. This was Acadia, established in 1919. Several New England gentlemen of means inspired the project, including Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University, and George B. Dorr, a wealthy Bostonian. As early as 1901 they financed a program to secure portions of the island threatened by development; large contributions from other philanthropists, most notably John D. Rockefeller, Jr., furthered the cause. In 1916 the group persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to proclaim the 6,000 acres acquired to date a national monument. In 1918 Congress provided $10,000 for its management; then the following year—largely at the insistence of Mr. Dorr and Park Service director Stephen T. Mather—authorized that the reserve be made into a national park. [17]

Meanwhile the drive for reserves in the highlands of Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina also continued. Out of these efforts came the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee. In 1924 Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work asked the five-man commission to assess the region's suitability for representation in the national park system. "It has not been generally known that eastern parks of National size might still be acquired by our Government," the delegation advised in its report. But surprisingly, not one but "several areas were found that contained topographic features of great scenic value" which compared "favorably with any of the existing parks of the West." In order of ruggedness two were preeminent—the Great Smoky Mountains, forming the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Yet the need to guard against overconfidence about the chances of actually preserving each highland remained. "All that has saved these nearby regions from spoliation for so long a time," the commissioners warned, "has been their inaccessibility and the difficulty of profitably exploiting the timber wealth that mantles the steep mountain slopes." Now these woodlands, too, were jeopardized by the "rapidly increasing shortages and mounting values of forest products." Thus it seemed probable "that the last remnants of [the] primeval forests will be destroyed," the men concluded, "however remote on steep mountain side or hidden away in deep lonely cove they may be." [18]

Predictably, the commissioners stressed ruggedness as the primary criterion for awarding the Appalachians one or more national parks. Still, their reference to the "primeval" character of the highlands was evidence they had considered broader roles for the reserves. The emerging importance of total preservation was further reflected in the appearance of articles calling attention to the value of the Great Smoky Mountains as a botanical refuge. "There are 152 varieties of trees alone," observed Isabelle F. Story, editor-in-chief of the National Park Service. Indeed "it is impossible to describe the Great Smoky forest," agreed Robert Sterling Yard, "so rich is it in variety and beauty." [19] Yet no one denied that spectacular topography was still the major criterion for selecting a national park. Ruggedness first attracted the Appalachian National Park Committee to the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies. Other features unique to the Appalachians, especially their forests, initially were singled out largely to overcome doubts that neither region had enough topographical distinction to warrant park status. "It may be admitted that they are second to the West in rugged grandeur," Commissioner William C. Gregg conceded, "but they are first in beauty of woods, in thrilling fairyland glens, and in the warmth of Mother Nature's welcome." Stephen T. Mather added to Gregg's assessment: "The greater portion of the lands involved in these two park projects are wilderness areas." Still, even he felt compelled to add immediately, "and in the Smoky Mountains are found the greatest outstanding peaks east of the Rocky Mountains." [20]

In the East, of course, the public domain had long since passed into private control. The establishment of a national park here was not simply a matter of transferring land from one federal bureaucracy to another. As with Acadia, the land must be repurchased. From the outset Congress made it clear that either the states or private donors would have to assume the financial and legal costs of acquiring any reserves east of the Rockies. To coordinate such efforts, preservationists organized the Shenandoah National Park Association of Virginia, the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Commission, and Great Smoky Mountains, Inc. Swayed by this outburst of citizen support, in May 1926 Congress authorized the secretary of the interior to accept, on behalf of the federal government, a maximum of 521,000 acres and 704,000 acres for Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks respectively. [21] Still, in the absence of any immediate assistance from Washington, both projects were sorely compromised from the start. Estimates for acquiring sufficient property in the Smokies alone approached $10 million. Residents of North Carolina, Tennessee, and other private citizens raised half the amount; long plagued by substandard economies, however, neither state seemed capable of attaining its goal. Again the cause of preservation had a rescuer in John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who made up the difference between the $5 million subscribed to date and the amount needed for a national park worthy of the name. A substantially smaller, but no less welcome Rockefeller contribution aided the Shenandoah project in Virginia as well. Thereby spared the certainty of truly crippling delays, in 1934 and 1935 respectively Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah national parks joined the system as full-fledged members [22]

Shenandoah and the Great Smokies are best seen as transition parks. While both anticipated the ecological standards of the later twentieth century, Congress first required each region to approximate the visual standards of the national park idea as originally conceived. The persistence of monumentalism dictated that landscapes represented in the East also be of some topographic significance. Whatever the merits of the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains as wilderness, wildlife, and botanical preserves, none of these features had as yet been recognized apart from its scenic base. Mountains were the framework of protection; what lived or moved on their surfaces might buttress preservationists' arguments for the parks, yet not guarantee them a full and complete victory. Still unresolved was whether or not large areas devoid of geological wonders might win permanent admittance to the national park system. Confidence that the United States was moving closer to concern for the environment for its own sake awaited the outcome of more heated controversies. With the addition, specifically, of the Florida Everglades to the national park family, preservationists could point with greater assurance to evidence of a more enlightened environmental perspective.

The cornerstone of that perspective was total preservation. Its meaning was not yet fully defined; still, gradually more Americans were coming to realize that, essentially, the difference between all parks and national parks lay in the one feature that the latter had had from the beginning—primitive conditions. State and city parks could be said to be scenic; few but the national parks offered scenery unmodified. "Except to make way for roads, trails, hotels and camps sufficient to permit the people to live there awhile and contemplate the unaltered works of nature," Robert Sterling Yard described the distinction, "no tree, shrub or wild flower is cut, no stream or lake shore is disturbed, no bird or animal is destroyed." The national parks, in short, were unique by virtue of "complete conservation." [23] It followed that they were best where modified the least.

It was symbolic that Yellowstone National Park would be central to the first major test of that new resolve. Approval of the park in 1872 realized the campaign to protect the region's unique "freaks" and "curiosities" of nature. Yet its boundaries had been drawn in some haste and in the absence of complete knowledge about the territory. Only gradually did a later generation of preservationists fully appreciate that many features worthy of protection had been left outside the park. Of these none were considered more inspiring than the mountains of the Teton Range. Sheer and glacier-carved, the summits guard the southern approach to Yellowstone on a north-south axis approximately forty miles in length. The highest peak, Grand Teton, rises well above 13,700 feet. To the east the mountains fall off abruptly into Jackson Hole, which, at roughly 6,000 feet in elevation, often is referred to as the Tetons' "frame." The valley supports a variety of native vegetation as a foreground, including woodlands, grasslands, and sagebrush flats. Several lakes and streams also mirror the peaks, among them Jackson Lake, lying astride the northern flank of the range, and the Snake River, which roughly divides the remainder of Jackson Hole into an eastern and a western half. [24]

Like its neighbor to the north, Yellowstone National Park, prior to 1880 Jackson Hole was wild and relatively unnoticed. [25] This was the ideal time to protect the region as a whole, before anyone seriously claimed it. Yet with the nation's attention fixed on the wonders of Yellowstone, the opportunity vanished before it was realized. By the late 1880s ranchers and settlers began filtering into Jackson Hole from the south and east; hard evidence of civilization inevitably followed, including roads, cabins, barns, and fences. [26]

With settlement came permanent disruptions to the wildlife as well as the natural vegetation. For centuries Yellowstone's southern elk herd had migrated through Jackson Hole to winter in the Green River basin, west of the Wind River Mountains. Other large mammals, including moose and antelope, were also dependent on a far larger range than the national park originally included. With settlement of the Green River basin, then Jackson Hole, the elk found themselves squeezed off their wintering grounds by barbed-wire fencing and roads. In addition, domestic livestock consumed much of the forage previously reserved for the elk. They could not stay in Yellowstone; the snow was too deep and the cold too bitter. As a result, thousands of the animals starved, weakened, and died. To worsen matters, each fall the herd also fell victim to poaching. The professional hunters simply lined up just outside Yellowstone Park to await the animals' forced exit. Sport hunting, although legal, also took its toll. The sportsmen, after all, no less than the market hunters, sought out those elk whose strength and vitality were essential to maintaining the herd's reproductive capacity. [27]

Because scenic phenomena, not wildlife, inspired Yellowstone National Park, no one at the time seriously considered laying out its boundaries to protect both resources. Still, even if the fate of the elk had been foreseen, it is doubtful Congress would have added Jackson Hole to the national park in 1872. The valley floor is an average of 2,000 feet below Yellowstone; at this elevation grazing and agriculture are still practical, and certainly would have preempted any claim that a wildlife preserve was Jackson Hole's legitimate role. Indeed, as late as 1898 Congress shelved a report by Charles D. Walcott, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and Dr. T. S. Brandegee, a San Diego botanist, which called for the extension of Yellowstone Park southward to include the upper portion of the valley and most of the neighboring Thorofare Basin. The men noted that by restricting the addition to the northern segment of Jackson Hole, few vested interests should feel threatened, inasmuch as most of the settlers and ranchers had been drawn to the southern end of the valley because of its superior fertility. Besides, the territory to be included was primarily government land as part of the Teton Forest Preserve. [28]

It soon became evident, nevertheless, that preserving access to the forest reserve was reason enough for valley residents to oppose the plan. As a concession to local needs, settlers and ranchers were allowed to graze their livestock, hunt, gather fenceposts, and cut firewood in the forest. For obvious reasons few of the tenants wanted to forego these privileges for the sake of Yellowstone Park. Accordingly, in 1902 approximately sixty residents of Jackson Hole petitioned against the extension as another infringement on their right of entry to the public domain. It remained for the state of Wyoming, in 1905, to declare a large portion of the region a game preserve and curtail the poaching of the elk. [29] However, in the absence of a comprehensive approach to the issue of development in Jackson Hole itself, the effectiveness of the measure was compromised from the start.

The lines were now drawn for one of the longest and most emotional battles in the history of the national park idea. Over the next several years the tragedy of the elk occasionally focused attention on the fate of Jackson Hole. Then, in July 1916, Stephen T. Mather and Horace Albright briefly visited the valley with a party of government officials. It was this trip, Albright later recalled, that convinced him, Mather, and their associates that "this region must become a park" to protect forever its "beauty and wilderness charm." [30] The following winter he and Mather "looked up the status of Jackson Hole lands and tried to formulate some feasible park plans." Predictably, their own proposal strayed little from the earlier recommendation of Walcott and Brandegee to extend Yellowstone National Park southward into Jackson Hole. After all, Mather himself noted, the northern half of the valley "can never be put to any commercial use," while "every foot naturally belongs to Yellowstone Park." [31]

Opponents, however, were still not convinced by the worthless-lands argument. The Park Service agreed to preserve grazing privileges in the addition, and, true to Mather's word, pursued only the inclusion of Jackson Hole's least desirable portion. Yet on February 18, 1919, the extension bill died in the Senate under objections raised by John F. Nugent of Idaho. Speaking on behalf of state sheepmen and cattlemen, Nugent claimed that certain grasslands to be included in the park would not, as promised, in fact be open to grazing. [32] Once again the mere possibility that a national park would jeopardize commercial ventures had been enough to kill the Yellowstone extension. [33]

The controversy now took a new twist. Although the skepticism of the ranchers had been foreseen, an unexpected source of opposition suddenly appeared. Its target—a road-building program endorsed by the National Park Service—also came as quite a surprise. In part to counter objections raised against the economic impact of the Yellowstone extension, the Park Service had gone on record in support of an enlarged and improved system of roads for Jackson Hole, including a direct link with the Cody Road (Yellowstone's east entrance) via Thorofare Basin. "In Washington we were constantly impressed by visiting callers from the West with the demand for more and better roads," Horace Albright explained later in justifying the decision. It followed that the people of Jackson Hole would be thinking along much the same lines. "We even put this tentative idea on a map, believing that it was what Wyoming wanted. How many times later," he confessed, "we wished that map had never seen the light of day." [34]

But although the proposal was tentative, as Albright noted, publication of the map in the Park Service's Annual Report strongly implied that the roads would go through. [35] In August 1919, Albright, now superintendent of Yellowstone, returned to Jackson Hole to attend a public meeting called to discuss the Yellowstone extension. His hope of reenlisting support for the project evaporated in a storm of opposition. Behind the hostility of those present at the gathering, he determined, were the dude ranchers. As opposed to traditional ranching interests, who by and large welcomed the opportunities opened by public-works projects, the dude ranchers favored precisely the opposite flavor of the West. Like their clients, most were not native Westerners, but well-to-do Easterners who escaped to Jackson Hole to run their businesses during the tourist season. It was they, Albright reported, "who felt that park status meant modern roads, overflowing of the country with tourists, and other encroachments of civilization that would rob it of its romance and charm." [36] They even "refused to abide by the daylight-saving law," he complained to Director Mather in October. "They do not want automobiles . . . they will not have a telephone; and they insist that their mail should not be delivered more than three times a week." His veiled disgust was understandable; the National Park Service was charged with the task of making it easier to see the West rather than more difficult. Providing access to the national parks still had its serious side as well. Without greater public support for the reserves brought about by increased visitation, none might continue to exist. "One must, of course, feel a certain sympathy for these people who are trying to get away from the noise and worries of city life and go as far into the wilds as possible," Albright conceded, "but they can not expect to keep such extraordinary mountain regions as the Tetons and their gem lakes . . . all for themselves." [37]

In view of the determined opposition of the dude ranchers to more development in the Jackson Hole country, however, the Park Service reassessed its priorities. "Should the extension of the park be approved," Stephen T. Mather stressed hardly a year after Albright's run-in with valley residents, "it would be the policy of this service to abstain from the construction or improvement of any more roads than now exist in the region...." Mather further stated it to be his "firm conviction that a part of the Yellowstone country" likewise "should be maintained as a wilderness [italics added] for the ever-increasing numbers of people who prefer to walk and ride over trails in a region abounding in wild life." Moreover, as if to deny that the Park Service had, at the very least, encouraged a false impression about its commitment to the highway program, he would now go so far as to claim that any roads around Yellowstone Lake and across the Thorofare Basin "would mean the extinction of the moose." His overcompensation had a twofold purpose; first, it was obvious the Park Service had lost the trust of the dude ranchers in Jackson Hole. In addition to regaining their confidence, Mather also had to restore the credibility of the National Park Service as the agency of complete conservation. "I am so sure that this view is correct," he concluded, "that I would be glad to see an actual inhibition on new road building placed in the proposed extension bill, this proviso to declare that without the prior authority of Congress no new road project in this region should be undertaken." [38]

As testimony to his sincerity, he immediately extended the restriction against roads to other large parks, particularly Yosemite. The ban was not total; rather new roads must not be considered until old ones proved inadequate. Still, Mather insisted: "In the Yosemite National Park, as in all of the other parks, the policy which contemplates leaving large areas of high mountain country wholly undeveloped should be forever maintained." [39]

In 1926 there appeared another opportunity to follow through on his promise. After several years of delay and litigation, Congress was finally prepared to enlarge Sequoia National Park by taking in a substantial portion of the Sierra Nevada east of the Giant Forest, including Mount Whitney. Debate in the House of Representatives inevitably led to the question of developing the new section. The bill's sponsor, however, Henry E. Barbour of California, would hear none of it. "It is proposed to make this a trail park and keep it a trail park," he stressed. "It is now a trail park...; there are no roads contemplated into this new area at this time." The bill itself underscored the point by providing "for the preservation of said park in a state of nature [italics added] so far as is consistent with the purposes of this Act." [40] Although the clause left substantial leeway for development, with the enlargement of Sequoia National Park came proof that complete conservation was winning converts, especially with regard to the placement of roads.

It was one thing, of course, to prohibit roads in the rugged back country of the national parks, where their construction was nearly impossible in the first place, and quite another to discourage highways where topography posed no obstacles. In this regard Horace Albright conceded that the Sierra Nevada and Jackson Hole were worlds apart. "Good roads for the hurrying motorist, on the one hand," he noted in discussing the complexity of the issue facing the valley, "and protection of the dude ranchers from invasion by automobiles, on the other, were foreseen as difficult problems soon to be faced." Valley residents traced the day of reckoning to 1923. By then "it seemed that road development might get entirely out of hand," Albright recalled. Struthers Burt, a partner of the famous Bar BC dude ranch, agreed. Each year "the increasing hordes of automobile tourists" swept Jackson Hole "like locusts." Few motorists had "the slightest perception . . . that there existed other and equally important philosophies and vital, fundamental human desires." The charge foreshadowed Burt's own change of heart toward the National Park Service. "In the beginning I was bitterly opposed to park extension, and remained so for some time," he admitted. "The advent of the automobile alone would have changed my mind ..." [41]

Finally convinced of at least Horace Albright's sincerity, in July 1923 the dude ranchers invited him back to Jackson Hole to discuss the feasibility of protecting it as a living outdoor museum or recreation area. The threat of public-works projects sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation added to the sense of urgency in the valley over auto-related commercialism. By 1916, for example, the bureau had increased the surface area of Jackson Lake approximately 50 percent through damming of its outlet. As the water level rose, piles of dead trees and other debris littered the shoreline for miles. Despite the destruction, irrigationists backed the bureau's search for other reservoir sites, including the wilderness lakes surrounding Jackson Hole. Whether such schemes could be thwarted by an outdoor museum or its equivalent was highly questionable; who, for example, would invest in such a proposal? Still, Albright went along with the dude ranchers with the hope of eventually substituting a project more likely to succeed. [42]

Three years later, in July 1926, an opportunity presented itself in the form of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. While they and their sons vacationed in Yellowstone, Albright suggested the family round out its stay with a visit to Jackson Hole. He further offered to escort them in person. Naturally he anticipated their reaction to the assortment of gas stations, billboards, dancehalls, and other tourist traps now dotting that remarkable valley. On the spot Rockefeller requested that Albright forward him a list of the affected properties and estimates for the cost of restoring them to their former condition. Late that fall, however, when Albright hand-delivered the data requested by the philanthropist to his New York City office, Rockefeller surprised him by outlining an even more ambitious plan. While Albright's proposal called for spending approximately $250,000 to acquire only the land nearest the mountains, Rockefeller wished to invest four times that amount to purchase and restore private property on both sides of the Snake River. Understandably jubilant, Albright quickly compiled the necessary additions. [43]

To expedite the program, in 1927 Rockefeller and his staff, on advice from Albright, incorporated the Snake River Land Company out of Salt Lake City, Utah. The objective was to conceal Rockefeller's identity to ward off speculation in Jackson Hole once the purchasing began. Although the philanthropist intended to pay a fair price for the land, he agreed that knowledge of his interest in the valley would make completion of his program extremely difficult, if not impossible. Not until 1930, after most of the key real estate had been acquired, did Rockefeller's sponsorship of the Snake River Land Company, and his intention to deed its holdings to the National Park Service, become public information. [44]

All told, Rockefeller purchased approximately 35,000 acres, nearly 22 per cent of that portion of Jackson Hole eventually accorded park status. By February 1929 his subordinates had also persuaded President Calvin Coolidge to withdraw most of the adjoining tracts of public domain from entry. This, too, was a crucial victory, since, without the withdrawals, nothing legally prevented speculators, or those farmers and ranchers just bought out, from filing new homesteads as fast as Rockefeller acquired their existing holdings in the valley. [45]

But while he intended his gift to be free of cost to the nation, he could hardly have realized that Congress would not accept it for another twenty years. Once more the roadblock to preservation was the issue of "uselessness." Congress chose sides in 1929, when it set apart only the Teton Mountains as a national park. The protection of such rugged terrain, of course, could not seriously be considered a threat to any established economic interest. The park also gave preservationists the appearance of a victory, when in fact only those who still looked for monuments were satisfied. Fritiof M. Fryxell, for example, a geologist, could not have been more pleased with the result. "The peaks—these are the climax and, after all, the raison de'etre of this park," he maintained. "For the Grand Teton National Park is preeminently the national park of mountain peaks—the Park of Matterhorns." [46] Congress itself saw no reason to make the reserve contiguous with Yellowstone; similarly, Jackson Hole was excluded. Indeed, Jenny, Leigh, and String lakes, which hug the mountains' eastern flank, were just about the only level land in the entire 150-square-mile preserve. Its western boundary also excluded major watersheds, forests, and wildlife habitat by paralleling the tips of the peaks themselves, well above timberline. Yet even at this altitude Congress felt free to change its mind. Specifically, when the U.S. Forest Service protested that the northern third of the range contained asbestos deposits, Congress deleted the entire area prior to approving the enabling act. [47]

Granted, even without this section, no park was more magnificent. Yet only if monumentalism had been the overriding concern of preservationists could all of them have joined Fritiof M. Fryxell in praising the reserve as established. Since the inception of the movement to extend Yellowstone southward to include Jackson Hole and its neighboring environments, protection of the mountains themselves had been advanced as only one element of the need to preserve the region in its greater diversity. Without Jackson Hole, the park was simply a mountain retreat, too high, too cold, and too barren for all but summer recreation.

The one concession to complete conservation—a ban against any new roads, permanent camps, or hotels in the park—had also been challenged and revised accordingly. As initially worded, the clause opened with a declaration stating it to be the "intent of Congress to retain said park in its original wilderness character" [italics added]. The preface was a concession to the dude ranchers, whose opposition to the Park Service over the issue of roads had helped kill the Yellowstone extension in its original form. Yet some in Congress charged that the provision might now exclude trails from the park. As a result, all reference to "wilderness" was dropped. Even when an amendment exempted new trails from the ban against tourist facilities, the word "wilderness" was not reinstated in the clause. [48] The term, after all, was coming to stand for the ultimate commitment to total preservation. This might be going too far, even in the Tetons.

The ruggedness of the mountains was some guarantee total preservation must be followed, if only by default. Yet without Jackson Hole the test of the nation's commitment to complete conservation was meaningless. A park that preserved itself was, by its very nature, inadequate for protecting all forms of wildlife and plant life. Imposing landscapes were coming to be seen as but one component of the national park idea. The movement to set aside the Tetons themselves had evolved as part of the campaign to provide sanctuary for the Yellowstone elk and their winter range in Jackson Hole. As Struthers Burt put it, until the valley itself was fully protected, there remained the distinct possibility that "the tiny Grand Teton National Park, which is merely a strip along the base of the mountains, [will be] marooned like a necklace lost in a pile of garbage." [49]

Given the failure of Congress in establishing Grand Teton National Park to break with tradition by including the woodlands and sagebrush flats of Jackson Hole, it remained for approval of park status for the Florida Everglades to confirm the nation's pledge to total preservation. [50] Isle Royale National Park, in Michigan, authorized in 1931, preceded approval of the Everglades by three years; but although Isle Royale was advocated as a wilderness and wildlife preserve, nothing within its enabling act actually bound the National Park Service to manage the reserve for these values. Its supporters just as often singled out the island's "boldness" and "ruggedness"—in short, its topographic as opposed to its wilderness qualities. [51]

Jackson Hole, by virtue of its proximity to the Grand Tetons, might also be defended solely as the mountains' "frame." The Everglades had no dramatic geology to distract the American public from preservationists' sincere belief that its primitive conditions alone qualified the region for national park status. Rather then as now, the Everglades was best described as "a river of grass." As such it lacks a distinct channel with banks on either side; in reality its "streambed" averages forty miles in width. Its flow arcs southward from Lake Okeechobee—in the south-central portion of the state—to the tidal estuaries and mangrove forests of the Gulf Coast and Florida Bay, some 100 miles distant. The entire drop in elevation is but seventeen feet, barely two inches per mile. But although the current moves slowly, indeed almost imperceptibly, the lack of visible runoff is misleading as to its importance. The creep of the water, for example, allows much of it to seep underground, where it may be stored for future use by the region's large, invisible aquifers. Similarly, nearer the coast, the flow buttresses the tidelands against invasions of brackish seawater, whose salinity might jeopardize certain species of flora and fauna. [52]

The present water cycle began approximately 5,000 years ago, when glacier-fed seas last ebbed and exposed the southern Florida peninsula. The rainy season between June and October rejuvenated the flow; in wetter years Lake Okeechobee itself often spilled, providing the Everglades' "source." Storms moving in off the ocean contributed additional runoff, until, by late fall, the sawgrass filled to a depth of between one and two feet. Hurricanes and drought broke the rhythm periodically, but they were temporary conditions and did little to endanger the long-range survival of the plant and animal populations. The threat of permanent interference awaited twentieth-century profiteers, who disrupted, perhaps irreparably, the drainage pattern of which the Everglades had long been a crucial link. [53]

The birdlife was first to suffer. By the turn of the century feathers had become the rage of women's fashion, and southern Florida, with its teeming populations of American and snowy egret, was a prized source. Year after year the market hunters shot out the rookeries. To thwart the poachers, responsible sportsmen and conservationists organized the Association of Audubon Societies, after the famed nineteenth-century naturalist John James Audubon. The murder of one of its wardens by poachers in 1905, and the slaying of another three years later, aroused public opinion and helped speed legislation outlawing traffic in feathers. Yet the preservationists' victory was by no means complete. Denied a steady source for plumage, many hunters merely switched to poaching alligators, whose hides were also in growing demand for belts, shoes, luggage, and handbags. Not until 1969, despite the loss of 100,000 animals per year throughout the South as early as 1930, was the alligator fully protected by Congress as an endangered species. [54]

Farming the Everglades proved equally threatening to the longevity of its ecosystem. Because the mucklands immediately south of Lake Okeechobee were especially rich, after World War I construction began on a series of canals, locks, and dams to check its seasonal overflows and drain the excess water to the sea. Yet these early precautions against flooding were woefully inadequate. In 1926, and again in 1928, severe hurricanes spilled the lake at a cost of 2,300 lives. The toll overshadowed the widespread flooding, crop, and property damage. Conceivably, no time would have been more appropriate to conclude that the Everglades should not have been settled in the first place. Instead, in keeping with the nation's overriding utilitarian philosophy, most of the survivors looked upon the disasters as proof of the need for even greater control over Lake Okeechobee. In 1929, therefore, the Florida legislature authorized the state to cooperate with the federal government in placing a much more efficient system of holding basins and drainage canals throughout the region. During the next thirty years this network was continually expanded, largely under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [55]

And so, as with Jackson Hole, the time when the Everglades might have been set aside intact had slipped away. Once again preservationists could only hope to stem the tide of development. But that they would even make the attempt in the Everglades marked a radical about-face for the national park idea. Devoid of topographical uniqueness, no region lent more convincing testimony to the growing popularity of complete conservation. Dr. Willard Van Name, for example, associate curator of the American Museum of Natural History, spoke for a growing number of preservationists when he asked if the absence of "Yosemite Valleys or Yellowstone geysers in the eastern States" was all that prevented the enjoyment and protection of "such beauties of nature as we do have. National Parks have other important purposes besides preserving especially remarkable natural scenery," he stated, "notably that of preserving our rapidly vanishing wild life." In this regard no portion of the East loomed as a more logical candidate for national park status than the Everglades. "The movement to establish an Everglades National Park in Florida appeals strongly to me," Gilbert Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society, also testified. "Mount Desert [Acadia], Shenandoah, Great Smoky, and Everglades—what a magnificent string of Eastern Seaboard parks that would make!" [56]

The formation of the Tropic Everglades National Park Association in 1928 officially launched the campaign. Over the next six years the association's founder and chairman, Ernest F. Coe, a Miami activist, worked tirelessly to introduce the Everglades to influential congressmen, newspaper editors, journalists, scholars, and other park devotees. To both aid the effort and lend it credibility in scientific circles, Coe invited Dr. David Fairchild, an internationally recognized botanist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to head the association as president. [57]

Establishment of the citizen's group provided a sounding board for the inevitable debate regarding the suitability of the Everglades for national park status. Indeed, as Ernest Coe and Dr. Fairchild soon discovered, not all preservationists were in fact agreed that a national park in the region would be desirable. Some suggested that if the area warranted protection, a state park would be more than adequate. Still others advocated a botanical reserve of some sort, perhaps, but not necessarily under federal jurisdiction. Few rumblings of dissent, however, were more disconcerting than the opposition of William T. Hornaday, long hailed as one of America's leading spokesmen for wildlife conservation. In the Everglades "I found mighty little that was of special interest, and absolutely nothing that was picturesque or beautiful," he asserted, recalling visits dating back to 1875; "both then and now, . . . a swamp is a swamp." On a more charitable note, he conceded that "the saw-grass Everglades Swamp is not as ugly and repulsive as some other swamps that I have seen"; still he concluded: "it is yet a long ways from being fit to elevate into a national park, to put alongside the magnificent array of scenic wonderlands that the American people have elevated into that glorious class." [58]

Especially in light of his own lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation, Hornaday's rejection of an Everglades national park on the basis of its physical shortcomings underscored how fixed the image of parks as a visual experience had become in the American mind. It followed that Ernest Coe, Dr. Fairchild, and their supporters had to break down the barriers of that perception before they could educate the nation to understand the Everglades' own brand of uniqueness. The process of determining its suitability for national park status took the form of several so-called "special" investigations. The first, conducted by the National Park Service in February 1930, observed the requirements of a bill passed by Congress under the auspices of Senator Duncan U. Fletcher of Florida. Director Horace M. Albright led the inspection; the first day out the party circled above the proposed park in a blimp provided by the Goodyear Dirigible Corporation. "I believe," Albright reported, "that the old idea of an Everglades with dense swamps and lagoons festooned with lianas, and miasmatic swamps full of alligators and crocodiles and venomous snakes was entirely shattered." In their stead the group found forests, rivers, and plains supporting "many thousands of herons and other wild waterfowl." Each member of the investigation could well imagine, he concluded, "what an exceedingly interesting educational exhibit this entire area would be if by absolute protection these birds would multiply and the now rare species come back into the picture for the enjoyment of future generations." [59]

Toward this end the Albright committee reached accord that the Everglades would best be protected as a national park. "Before leaving I sounded out the opinion of the individual members," he assured the secretary of the interior, "and all were agreed that all standards set for national park creation would be fully justified in the establishment of this new park." [60] Skeptics might still be found elsewhere, however. Those in Congress, for example, succeeded in stalling the park bill another four years. The suspicion of the National Parks Association, chaired by Stephen Mather's former assistant, Robert Sterling Yard, also frustrated Albright, Ernest F. Coe, and their associates. In 1919 Mather had sponsored the formation of the National Parks Association in an effort to secure a private, nonpartisan watchdog for national park standards. Yard, whom Mather endorsed as first president, still took his job seriously—perhaps, Albright now believed, too seriously. For example, the National Parks Association would not, under any circumstances, accept pre-existing man-made structures, especially dams and reservoirs, in new national parks. Yard's reasoning was well-intentioned; like most preservationists he feared setting a precedent which would lead to another Hetch Hetchy. Might not their acceptance of extant dams, for example, be interpreted by Congress as an admission of its right to dam Hetch Hetchy in the first place? Yard's insistence on absolute purity, of course, left little room for compromise. Indeed, not only was he skeptical of the qualifications of the Everglades for national park status, [61] he also unequivocally opposed the enlargement of Grand Teton National Park for fear the inclusion of Jackson Lake—dammed as early as 1906—would be misconstrued as proof of the legitimacy of such projects in any reserve. [62]

The preponderance of private land throughout the Everglades gave rise to similar doubts. Some opponents even argued that the national park project was simply a scheme advanced by real-estate promoters to exaggerate the value of their holdings. Such skepticism in part led to a second major investigation of the Everglades under the auspices of the National Parks Association. Other sponsoring agencies included the American Civic Association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the National Association of Audubon Societies. It was therefore fitting that the principal investigator for the survey would be Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whose authorship of key portions of the National Park Service Act of 1916 had won the respect of each of these groups. William P. Wharton, a naturalist, accompanied Olmsted; on January 18, 1932, following two weeks of personal exploration in the Everglades, they presented their findings to the trustees of the National Parks Association.

Both the thoroughness of the report and the reputation of its senior author finally convinced the National Parks Association of the worthiness of the Everglades for national park status. Without question, Olmsted and Wharton agreed, the region was unique. "What we were chiefly concerned to study in the Florida Everglades," they wrote, "was the validity or invalidity of doubts . . . as to whether the area is really characterized by qualities properly typical of our National Parks from the standpoint of scenery...." The major preconception to be overcome was the belief that scenery must in all cases be defined as landscape. And "in a good deal of the region," the men stated, revealing the difficulty of breaking down their own prejudice, "the quality of the scenery is to the casual observer somewhat confused and monotonous." Visitors might compare the region to "other great plains," for example, whose scenic qualities were "perhaps rather subtle for the average observer in search of the spectacular." Yet even the topography of plains might be "simpler and bolder" in appearance. The scenery of the Everglades was better described as an emotional rather than a visual experience. Apart from landscape, it consisted "of beauty linked with a sense of power and vastness in nature." Granted, this indeed was scenery of the type "so different from the great scenes in our existing National Parks"; still, the "sheer beauty" of "the great flocks of birds, . . . the thousands upon thousands of ibis and herons flocking in at sunset," could be a sight "no less arresting, no less memorable than the impressions derived from the great mountain and canyon parks of the West." [63]

To further compensate for its lack of rugged terrain, the Everglades literally enthralled the visitor with its "sense of remoteness!" and "pristine wilderness." Foremost among the elements of the region to evoke this emotion was the mangrove forest bordering the coast. "It is a monotonous forest, in the sense that the coniferous forests of the north are monotonous." Yet "it is a forest not only uninhabited and unmodified by man," they noted, "but literally trackless and uninhabitable." Ten thousand people might boat through the region every day and "leave no track upon the forest floor...." Again the average visitor might not yet grasp the essence of wilderness; still, even for him, the men repeated, the Everglades should "rank high among the natural spectacles of America" by virtue of its great wildlife populations alone. [64]

Admittedly, where it called attention to the quantity of animals involved, the Olmsted-Wharton report was a throwback to the past. Much as those who felt compelled to compare the wonders of the West and Europe to the inch, their own sense of the need to speak in superlatives about the Everglades suggests some degree of self-doubt that the region could in fact stand on its own merits. Still, to now justify a national park exclusively on the basis of wildlife, indeed, to defend wildlife itself as scenery regardless of its physical backdrop, revealed how dramatically the national park idea might depart from the standards held by the great majority of early park supporters.

As testimony to the depth of that transformation, the Everglades National Park Act specifically called for total preservation of the region. While the Olmsted-Wharton report ad dressed the policy in principle, setbacks such as the Jackson Hole controversy convinced defenders of the Everglades that the concept would not necessarily be practiced in the field. Accordingly, they were insistent that an appropriate clause be drafted and included in the park's enabling act. "Such opposition as has been evidenced among organizations to the Everglades Bill," Horace Albright's successor, Arno B. Cammerer, explained, in April 1934, "has been directed to the form of the bill and not to the project, and solely to the alleged insufficiency that the future wilderness character of the area was not fully provided for." On the basis of the Olmsted-Wharton report, the National Parks Association spearheaded the drive for enactment of the Everglades as a wilderness preserve. "I would not object to a restatement of this principle in an amendment to the bill," Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes agreed, "if . . . such an amendment would not endanger its passage." [65]

Congressional approval of the bill as amended, on May 30, 1934, was seen by all concerned as a major victory for complete conservation. Indeed, how else could the park be interpreted, asked Ernest F. Coe—"it has no mountains, its highest elevation being less than eight feet above sea level?" Rather the "spirit" of Everglades National Park, in fact its very inspiration, he maintained, "is primarily the preservation of the primitive." [66] For the first time the language of park legislation had been unmistakably clear in committing the federal government to such management. Section 4 of the enabling act began: "The said area or areas shall be permanently reserved as a wilderness" [italics added]. Similarly, no development of the park to provide access to visitors must "interfere with the preservation intact of the unique flora and fauna and the essential primitive conditions." This clause alone, Coe noted, marked a momentous "evolution" in the character and standards of the national parks. In the provision was clear evidence of the growing respect for "natural ecological relations," of "that interlocking balanced relation between the animate and the inanimate world." The national parks "have much of interest in bold topography and other uniqueness," Dr. John K. Small of the New York Botanical Garden agreed. "Why not also have a unique area exhilarating by its lack of topography and charming by its matchless vegetation and animal life?" [67]

With the authorization of Everglades National Park, Congress answered on a positive note. Of course there were the usual preconditions. Most notably, as with Shenandoah, Great Smoky, Isle Royale, and similar projects, again it remained for the state of Florida and its friends to actually purchase the land for the park. Similarly, before Congress would make the reserve official, the property must be deeded over to the federal government with no strings attached. As a result, formal dedication of Everglades National Park did not come until 1947. Still, nothing during the interval affected its guiding purpose as a wilderness and wildlife preserve. To the contrary, as early as 1937 the federal government reaffirmed the precedent set forth in the Everglades with authorization of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in North Carolina, "as a primitive wilderness." Except for certain areas best devoted to outdoor recreation, no portion of the park was to be administered in a manner "incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna" or the original "physiographic conditions." [68] Again nothing in the salt marshes and sand dunes of Cape Hatteras could be linked with monumentalism; like the Everglades, the first national seashore in the United States was the direct beneficiary of the distinctions advanced under the heading of "complete conservation." At Cape Hatteras the nation once more paid formal recognition to the virtues of protecting an ecosystem for its own sake. And, in time, the genre of parks begun astride the breakers of North Carolina blossomed into an impressive string of preserves along all of the nation's coasts. [69] None, to be sure, were national parks in the traditional sense; simply, if the national park idea was now to be truly representative of the American scene, tradition must make way for ecological reality. [70]

Everglades National Park was the all-important precedent. The sincerity of attempts to apply total preservation to existing national parks might still be discredited by their imposing topography. Totally devoid of the mileposts of cultural nationalism, the Everglades confirmed the depth of commitments to protect more than the physical environment. Granted, preservationists initially had trouble convincing themselves of the need to break with tradition. Gradually, however, as they closed ranks, for the first time new avenues of scenic protection became a real possibility. If any single doubt remained, it was the most enduring one of all. However the United States defined "conservation" or applied it to the national parks, could their friends make it stick?


National Parks: The American Experience
©1997, University of Nebraska Press
runte1/chap6.htm — 17-Mar-2004