Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 1
Creating Tradition: The Roots of National Park Management

Resorts, Spas, and Early National Parks

From the very beginning, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company's interest in the Yellowstone legislation anticipated the direction that national park management would take. The legendary 1870 campfire discussion itself foretold that the public would want to see Yellowstone-that "tourists and pleasure seekers" would visit the area. Certainly during the more than four decades between Yellowstone's establishment in 1872 and the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, management of the parks for public use and enjoyment was the overriding concern. The enthusiastic promotion of recreational tourism in the parks generated a tradition that the Park Service would eagerly embrace. [18] Given the extraordinary dominance of this concern, surely it reflected the chief intent behind the national park concept.

By the time of Yellowstone's establishment in 1872 as a "public park or pleasuring-ground," tourism activity in other parts of the country had established important precedents for development in the national parks. To accommodate tourism in scenic areas or around health-giving thermal springs, entrepreneurs, often backed by railroad companies, had built resort facilities, some of them fancy, others primitive. Although early national park management seems not to have looked collectively to such resorts for guidance, a pattern nevertheless evolved as, more than anything else, park development simulated resort development. Areas selected for intensive public use in the national parks took on the appearance of resorts, and effectively served that purpose. [19]

Emerging soon after the era of canal building, railroads played a major role in boosting tourism in the United States. Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal had made Niagara Falls more accessible to East Coast populations; and the coming of the railroad to western New York soon secured for Niagara its position as the nation's premier resort. More comfortable and faster than stagecoaches and canal boats, railroads enabled tourists to reach scenic attractions at increasing distances from the principal population centers. The growth of urban middle and upper classes after the Civil War, the desire to escape the summer heat of cities, and feverish postwar railroad construction accelerated interest in traveling for pleasure. In addition to Niagara, resorts and spas were developed in the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and at Lake George, Saratoga, White Sulphur Springs, and other scenic areas. Hotels and cabins were clustered near thermal springs, or situated with views of spectacular scenery. Relatively primitive at first, facilities improved as the popularity and prosperity of resorts increased; in some resorts, accommodations evolved into imposing, luxurious hotels. Yet also present at many scenic spots were ramshackle souvenir shops or cabins-the very type of small-time entrepreneurial activity that Jay Cooke sought to exclude from Yellowstone through establishment of a government "reservation."

At midcentury, railroads began to penetrate the upper Midwest, making this area accessible to travelers and extending farther west the phenomenon of popular tourist resorts. [20] Beyond the Mississippi River, early resort development (much of it in California and Colorado) included two places that would become important in national park history: the thermal springs of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the Yosemite Valley of California. These sites-one a spa and the other a dramatically scenic valley-formed the nuclei of the only present-day national parks that were in some way set aside before Yellowstone. Both places experienced intensive resort development.

In the decades after the 1832 establishment of the Hot Springs Reservation, primitive bathhouses were clustered around the springs, but the Civil War stalled development. Yet by 1873 the city of Hot Springs had six bathhouses and two dozen boarding houses and hotels. The first luxury accommodations appeared when the Arlington Hotel opened in 1875, about the time the first railroad line reached the city. By the late nineteenth century, the reservation's "Bathhouse Row" would begin to undergo extensive renovation, including a landscaping program of formal gardens and promenade and the replacement of older structures with imposing new bathhouses. The new Bathhouse Row became a national attraction and launched the heyday of therapeutic bathing at Hot Springs. [21]

Meanwhile, the Yosemite Valley also was experiencing extensive development. The 1864 federal grant to the State of California required that the valley and the nearby Mariposa Grove of big trees be managed as a park for the public's "use, resort, and recreation." Surrounded by a dramatic, vertical landscape of granite cliffs and majestic waterfalls, Yosemite's rather flat valley floor served as a kind of viewing platform from which to enjoy the scenery. And despite the cautionary recommendations of Frederick Law Olmsted's 1865 report on the new state park, much of the valley floor was developed to satisfy the whims of the tourist industry. Under lax state management, the Yosemite Valley emerged as a crazy quilt of roads, hotels, and cabins, and pastures and pens for cattle, hogs, mules, and horses. Tilled lands supplied food for residents and visitors, and feed for livestock; irrigation dams and ditches supported agriculture; and timber operations supplied wood for construction, fencing, and heating. Amid the clutter of development stood one "luxury" hotel, the three-and-a-half-story Stoneman House, built in 1886. [22

Mackinac National Park underwent a similar assault. The park was created for the "benefit and enjoyment of the people," and was further dedicated as a "national public park, or grounds" for the people's "health, comfort, and pleasure"-the public enjoyment factor receiving even more emphasis than it had in the Yellowstone legislation. Accordingly, this small park underwent heavy resort development. Construction of summer homes, cottages, and hotels in and adjacent to the park (including the impressive thirteen-hundred-bed Grand Hotel, which opened in 1887) made Mackinac a popular destination for vacationers from midwestern and eastern cities. [23]

Yellowstone, however, provided the most striking example of resort-style development in a national park. Its potential was recognized not only in the Madison Junction campfire discussion, but in public statements prior to passage of the Yellowstone Park Act. To Congress it was claimed that the park would become a "place of great national resort" and should be dedicated to "public use, resort and recreation." The New York Times editorialized that "in all probability" the mineral springs "with which the place abounds" would soon prove to "possess various curative powers," and claimed that physicians believed the park would "become a valuable resort for certain classes of invalids." Yellowstone could become a spa rivaling those in Europe and attracting people from "all parts of the world to drink the waters, and gaze on picturesque splendors." Such potential fostered the declaration in the Yellowstone Park Act that the area was to be a "public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," and the provision allowing the secretary of the interior to lease park lands for "building purposes" and for "accommodation of visitors." [24]

Although eschewing private ownership of Yellowstone, the Northern Pacific anticipated profits from its virtual monopoly on travel into the park. Extensive development did not occur as quickly as the railroad company hoped, however. The national financial crisis of 1873 forced the company to postpone construction of its rail line across Montana. But even as early as 1871, before the park was established, small, primitive hotels (some including thermal-water bathing facilities) were in place near Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lower Geyser Basin. Soon a few crude log structures sprang up near other park attractions. Precisely the kind of development that Jay Cooke disdained, these meager efforts ultimately failed. Not until 1883 did the Northern Pacific rails penetrate to within a few miles of Yellowstone's northwestern boundary. There tourists could transfer to stagecoaches and be driven into the park. Within the year, a consortium backed by the Northern Pacific opened the park's first large hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. [25]

A parsimonious and often indifferent Congress gave Yellowstone minimal support during its earliest years. Then, in 1883, army engineers began to oversee construction of park roads. Shortly thereafter, to better organize and strengthen park operations, the army was assigned overall management of Yellowstone, its troops arriving in August 1886. (In the 1890s the army also would be placed in charge of Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant national parks.) The engineers soon began construction of permanent buildings for Fort Yellowstone, adjacent to the new hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. The major construction effort was the Grand Loop Road, a 152-mile system routing visitors from one spectacle to another-Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and others. By the early part of the twentieth century a system totaling approximately four hundred miles of "mountain roads" (primitive to improved) was nearly complete in Yellowstone.

With the development of the road system and with the backing of the Northern Pacific, large, imposing hotels were built near scenic wonders such as Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Tourists could thus travel safely through the park's vast wilderness landscapes to enjoy civilized pleasures in a variety of grand hotels featuring the kinds of amenities already familiar to the traveling public in the East and Midwest. To promote its investments, the Northern Pacific advertised its route as the "Yellowstone Park Line." By 1910 expenditures for tourist-facility improvements reached a million dollars; and by about 1912 the facilities had produced an equivalent amount of revenue. The federal government also paid its share: by 1906 it too had invested one million dollars in the road system. [26] Hotel and road construction in Yellowstone-far and away the primary management accomplishment during the early decades-essentially paralleled nineteenth-century American resort development.

Other national parks soon experienced the kind of development under way in Yellowstone. Indeed, the enabling legislation for subsequent national parks provided for leasing land to be used for public accommodation, in some instances with wording taken verbatim from the 1872 Yellowstone Act. Roads, trails, public accommodations, and administrative facilities were constructed in the new parks. Usually primitive at first, such developments were followed by well-engineered and architecturally impressive construction. For instance, before the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910, several small tourist accommodations opened in the area. Soon after, the Great Northern Railway Company (principal lobbyist for the park) began construction of large rustic-style hotels and smaller mountain chalets. At a cost of about half a million dollars each, the Great Northern built the Glacier Park Lodge and the Many Glacier Hotel. Its chain of attractive chalets enabled visitors to sleep comfortably overnight while on their way by horseback across the mountainous park. [27]

Clustered village-type developments, as at Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Springs, emerged as the norm. Typically located near favored scenic attractions, these developed areas featured splendid hotels. By 1915, just over a decade after establishment of Crater Lake National Park, a large rustic hotel, the Crater Lake Lodge, opened to the public. Along with other facilities, this stone, log, and frame hotel was perched on the crater rim, overlooking the deep, sapphire-blue lake. Mount Rainier's picturesque Paradise Inn, with gabled roof and rustic lobby, was completed in 1917 and became a showpiece of the park. Beginning as a very modest accommodation, Sequoia's Giant Forest Lodge, located in the Giant Forest Village, would be enlarged and modernized in the early 1920s. [28] Prior to the establishment of Platt National Park in 1906, that area's thermal springs had already spawned a popular health and recreation resort. Soon after it gained national park status, Platt was further developed, in an architecturally picturesque style, with roads, trails, pavilions, landscaped grounds, and quaint bridges. [29]

Parkwide planning gradually emerged, guiding the placement of roads, trails, tourist accommodations, and administrative facilities. Construction of the Yellowstone road system marked the earliest broad-scale approach. Other parks soon followed, and in 1910 Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger called for "complete and comprehensive plans" for national parks. The importance of carefully controlled tourism development was underscored by the 1914 appointment of Mark Daniels as first "general superintendent and landscape engineer" for the national parks. [30] Daniels, a landscape architect and designer of subdivisions in San Francisco, became extensively involved in park planning in Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Glacier, and especially Yosemite.

In remarks to a 1915 national park conference, Daniels stressed the need for systematic planning. Tellingly, he explained how the implementation of park plans depended in part on the successful promotion of tourism. He commented that the parks "can not get a sufficient appropriation at present from Congress to develop... plans and put them on the ground as they should be, therefore we are working for an increase in attendance which will give us a justification for a demand upon Congress to increase the appropriations that are necessary to enable us to complete these things." Daniels' comments suggested a kind of perpetual motion that would become a significant aspect of national park management, where tourism and development would sustain and energize each other through their interdependence.

Already, increasing tourism meant to Daniels "the inevitableness of creating villages in the parks." He stated that the Yosemite Valley was almost in "the category of cities," and that it needed "a sanitary system, a water-supply system, a telephone system, an electric light system, and a system of patrolling." It was clear to him that several national parks would soon "absolutely demand some sort of civic plan" to take care of their visitors. [31]

In the early part of the century, with the rising power of the newly created U.S. Forest Service the need to develop the national parks gained a particular sense of urgency. It was vital to ensure the parks' popularity and prevent their transfer to the Forest Service, which stressed extraction and consumption of natural resources rather than protection of natural conditions or scenic landscapes. [32] Furthermore, as the automobile era rapidly advanced, the national parks would face demands for use and enjoyment from a public more mobile than ever. This situation would foster the continuation of development trends begun by early park management.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap1b.htm — 1-Jan-2003