Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 3
Perpetuating Tradition: The National Parks under Stephen T. Mather, 1916-1929

Building Park Service Leadership

Because the various national parks had previously been independent of one another, with no effort at a cooperative approach to management policy and practice, very little organization building had taken place within the system. Thus, Mather did not face a powerful, cohesive managerial clique. Even though the U.S. Army had held responsibility for three of the most complex parks in the system, it had not sought to build a national park empire. Prior to withdrawal, its leaders urged that park duties were costly and inappropriate for the army and should be terminated. [3] The military's departure from Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant national parks in 1914, and Yellowstone in 1918, left a significant void in park management. Moreover, Mather judged many of the civilian superintendents of the other parks to be ineffectual, and would soon replace them with his own men. [4] Enjoying considerable discretion as director, he could determine what kinds of expertise were most needed to run the parks under the new mandate. Furthermore, within funding limitations, he could select the Service's directorate, the park superintendents, and professional support with little if any interference.

Although the Organic Act was passed in August 1916, it was not until the following spring that Congress appropriated funds for the Park Service. Mather oversaw interim operations; and with a staff of six, the Park Service's headquarters in Washington, D.C., officially opened on April 17, only eleven days after the United States entered World War I. [5] Taking the place of general parks superintendent Robert Marshall, the Service's directorate assumed its leadership role. Next to Mather, Horace Albright was the most powerful individual in the directorate, serving first in Washington, and then, from 1919 to 1929, as Yellowstone superintendent, with continuing directorate responsibilities. Moreover, during Mather's long periods of absence due to severe stress and nervous conditions, he made Albright, his protégé and closest advisor, acting director of the Park Service.

As Mather staffed the new bureau, two groups assumed positions of special power and influence: one group consisted of landscape architects and engineers-professionals who oversaw park development; the other consisted of park managers-the superintendents and their rangers who were in charge of day-to-day operation of the parks. Under Mather's direction, each group coalesced, attaining a bureaucratic status that would flourish under succeeding directors.

As the Service matured into a sizable and highly successful bureau, it would develop a strong sense of identity and purpose and, concurrently, a sense of working together as a kind of close-knit family-the "Park Service family," as it would become fondly known by many employees. Together with the Service's ever-powerful directorate, the landscape architects, engineers, superintendents, and park rangers formed the core of an emerging "leadership culture"-in effect, the dominant family members. Under their guidance the Mather era locked in place the utilitarian tendencies of the pre-Park Service years and crystallized the business-capitalist predisposition for continual development, growth, and expansion. With continuous reference to the Organic Act's mandate as fundamental dogma, the Service's leadership groups defined the values and principles of the new bureau and established its managerial traditions-the leadership culture itself became locked in place. Policies developed and honed during the Mather era would exert an enduring, pervasive influence on national park history.

Applicable to National Park Service evolution, sociologist Edgar H. Schein, in his study of organizational culture and leadership, discusses how organizational cultures "begin with leaders who impose their own values and assumptions on a group." Such cultures come to be defined by the "shared, taken-for-granted basic assumptions held by members of the group or organization." Around these, the culture will develop a "basic design of tasks, division of labor, organization structure, [and] reward and incentive systems." Schein states further that if an organization is successful and its assumptions "come to be taken for granted," then its culture will "define for later generations of members what kinds of leadership are acceptable." Thus, "the culture now defines leadership"-it will "determine the criteria for leadership and thus determine who will or will not be a leader." [6]

In such regards, it can be argued that, in line with the values and objectives set by the Park Service founders (especially Mather and Albright), the perceived needs of the national parks and the intended purpose of the Service have always been reflected in the bureau's organizational arrangements. Such arrangements reveal a hierarchy of goals and functions and disclose the professions that controlled policy formulation and decisionmaking and formed the Service's leadership culture.

The first true professions to appear in the National Park Service engineering and "landscape engineering" (later designated landscape architecture) made up two of the four divisions in the Service's organizational chart dated July 1, 1919. [7] As developmental professions capable of overseeing the planning, design, and construction of park facilities, they fit very naturally into Mather's plans for implementing the Organic Act. The extensive involvement of these professions initially sprang from the public understanding of national parks as pleasuring grounds and soon worked to perpetuate this perception.

The emerging bureaucratic strength of landscape architecture no doubt benefited from the profession's having been so well represented among Park Service founders. Especially prominent were leaders of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Civic Association, including Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Horace McFarland (a horticulturalist deeply involved with aspects of landscape architecture), whose influence and support continued well after the Service was established. Mark Daniels, the national parks' first general superintendent, was a landscape architect. Mather himself was a longtime member of the American Civic Association; following his resignation, the landscape architects awarded him an honorary life membership in their national society. [8]

Mather believed that landscape architects filled a "serious gap" in his organization; and in 1922, seeking to ensure that new construction "fit into the park environment in a harmonious manner," he required their approval on "all important plans" for the parks. This authority was also extended to park development undertaken by concessionaires. [9] In developing the parks in cooperation with architects and engineers, landscape architects sought not only to avoid intruding on scenery, but also to display scenery to its best advantage with the proper placement of roads, trails, and buildings. They designed plantings to screen unattractive development from view, and planned intensively developed areas, with parking lots, sidewalks, buildings, lawns, and gardens. The resolve to blend new construction with natural surroundings-to develop the parks without destroying their beauty-formed the basis of landscape architecture's central role in national park development.

The authority of the landscape architects did not mean that their decisions went unchallenged; rather, they frequently skirmished with superintendents, concessionaires, and others over the details of plans and designs. In September 1922 a dispute over the design of two bridges in Yosemite caused Arno B. Cammerer, then an assistant director of the Service, to defend the landscape architects' approval authority. Cammerer wrote confidentially to Olmsted that, regarding such disagreements, some superintendents were "bucky in the matter" and needed to be better educated in park design and development concerns. He pressed the issue later that year at the superintendents conference, and again in the 1923 conference, when he reiterated that the superintendents must cooperate with the landscape architects. [10]

The pervasiveness of landscape architecture in the national parks encouraged some in the profession to argue for it to have even greater authority within the Service. Landscape architect Paul Kiessig wrote to Horace Albright in 1922 that national parks are "primarily a landscape thing," that "scenery is the attribute that sets a park aside to be conserved and protected for all generations," and that a park's "original charm" must be protected. Claiming that the superintendents had a "perennial resistance" and a "basic aversion" to the ideas of the landscape architects, Kiessig advocated that not only national park superintendents, but also an assistant director of the Service, should be men trained in landscape architecture. [11]

Later, in May 1929, while seeking to gain dominance in the "Field Headquarters" (a recently established office located in San Francisco to improve coordination among the mostly western national parks), landscape architect Thomas C. Vint asserted that his profession deserved the central role in park development. Writing to Albright to express concern about engineers having too much influence in the San Francisco office, Vint asked rhetorically if the parks were to be developed on a "landscape or engineering basis." Predictably, his choice was a landscape basis, which would put the parks under a kind of umbrella profession, combining architecture, engineering, and horticulture, with a strong focus on "the element of beauty." Vint believed that all employees should "think landscape," and that no matter what the organizational structure of the San Francisco office was, it would still become a "landscape organization." [12]

Albright later recalled that the lack of "integrated planning" in the parks led Mather to begin hiring landscape architects. As much as any other factor, the emergence of a formal, parkwide planning process gave the profession its powerful, enduring role in national park affairs. In February 1916, during the campaign to establish the National Park Service, James S. Pray of the American Society of Landscape Architects had called for "comprehensive general plans" for each park. This idea was endorsed two years later by Interior secretary Franklin Lane, who required that all park improvements be "in accordance with a preconceived plan developed with special reference to the preservation of the landscape," a plan that would require knowledge of "landscape architecture or... proper appreciation of the esthetic value of park lands." Lane stated that these comprehensive plans were to be prepared as soon as funds were available. Mather did not get systemwide planning under way until 1925, when he authorized preparation of five-year plans for the parks. By late 1929 the Service employed nine landscape architects, a number that increased to twenty by 1932. [13]

In the early 1930s the Service would expand its long-range planning and prepare comprehensive, parkwide plans (which became known as "master plans"), supplemented by more detailed plans for areas to be intensively developed. By this time, planning and landscape architecture had come under the command of Thomas Vint. [14] And in February 1931, landscape architect Conrad L. Wirth joined the Park Service, rising quickly to assistant director. Under Vint and Wirth-probably the two most influential landscape architects in National Park Service history-landscape architecture became firmly established as one of the Service's most powerful professions, a status it has not relinquished to this day. [15]

Although never acquiring the bureaucratic strength that landscape architects wielded, Park Service engineers nevertheless gained considerable influence. Mather hired his first engineer in 1917, the year before he employed the first landscape architect; engineering remained a vital part of the organization throughout his directorship. Chief among the engineers' responsibilities was the construction of park roads. Designed for horse traffic, the early roads needed widening, realigning, and paving to accommodate automobiles, which had begun to be allowed in the parks just before establishment of the Park Service. Mather aggressively lobbied Congress for funds for road rehabilitation and new construction, and in 1924 Congress funded the Service's first large road program. Two years later the Service concluded a formal agreement whereby the Bureau of Public Roads would oversee the building of major highways and bridges in the national parks. Park Service engineers coordinated the work with the bureau and also oversaw other development, such as park buildings, water and sewage systems, electrical systems, trails, and campgrounds. [16] With their projects often creating massive intrusions on park landscapes, engineers had to coordinate regularly with landscape architects on matters of aesthetics and scenery. As the key link between construction and the preservation of majestic park scenery, landscape architects had the bureaucratic advantage over engineers.

In 1927 Frank A. Kittredge, who had impressed Mather during the initial planning and construction of Glacier National Park's spectacular Going to the Sun Highway, transferred from the Bureau of Public Roads to become the Park Service's chief engineer. With congressional increases in construction funds in the late 1920s and into the New Deal era, the engineering office grew in size and influence. In a time of such expansive development of the national parks, the engineers mixed easily with park management and attained membership in the Service's leadership circles. Indeed, many of Mather's new superintendents were former engineers. Indicative of the engineers' ability to cross over into park management, Kittredge himself would later become head of the newly created regional office in San Francisco, overseeing parks in much of the area from the Rocky Mountains west. In time, he would serve in superintendencies at Grand Canyon and Yosemite before returning to engineering. [17]

Under Mather, field management began to develop a genuine professionalism, with identifiable duties and standards of operation. As one of his principal objectives, Mather wanted the new bureau to have organizational strength and durability-what Horace Albright later called a "strong internal structure." [18] The heart of this structure was to be the park rangers and superintendents. By the time Mather resigned in early 1929, the rangers and superintendents had coalesced as a distinctive group with a strong sense of identity and a common understanding of how national parks should be managed. Proudly wearing the dark-green field uniform, they became the chief bearers of Park Service family tradition and the forerunners of today's "green blood" employees.

The national park ranger corps had slowly evolved during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1914, while attempting to establish a "ranger service"-a distinct corps of rangers-general superintendent Mark Daniels drew up regulations to coordinate and standardize ranger work. Without a strong national office to oversee this effort, Daniels' ranger service did not succeed. [19] His regulations, however, issued to all parks by Secretary Lane in January 1915, reflected the essentially frontier skills expected of a ranger. In addition to age requirements, appointments and promotions, salary scales, and uniform and equipment standards, the regulations called for rangers to have "experience in the outdoor life" and to be able to endure hardships, ride and take care of horses and mules, shoot a rifle and a pistol, cook simple meals, build trails, and construct cabins. These types of skills would enable them to patrol park backcountry for poachers and unauthorized livestock, kill predators, fight fires, and undertake other park protection activities. [20] In time, those rangers most deeply involved in such natural resource management activities would become known as "wildlife rangers."

Secretary Lane's regulations also directed rangers to be "tactful in handling people," a requirement that foretold an increasingly significant responsibility during the Mather era. With rapidly increasing automobile travel after World War I, the rangers had greater contact with park visitors who were not poaching or trespassing, but instead were enjoying the parks. The need to assist visitors brought about establishment of "ranger naturalist" positions, which, under the supervision of a "park naturalist," had duties including staffing park museums, leading hikes, and giving nature talks. [21] Like the wildlife rangers, the ranger naturalists needed a serviceable understanding of their park's natural history.

Mather believed the success or failure of the national parks depended on the rangers. Albright saw them as the "core of park management" (as he later put it) and recognized that the public's impression of the National Park Service came primarily from contact with these uniformed personnel. [22] In his effort to build ranger esprit de corps, Mather always wore his official uniform and mixed with the rangers during his many park visits. Symbolic of his concern for the rangers' welfare and morale, in 1920 Mather himself paid for construction of the Yosemite "Rangers' Club," which became famous throughout the Park Service as a gathering spot for rangers, superintendents, and the Service directorate. Mather also authorized the first conference of chief rangers in 1926. Held in Sequoia, and chaired by veteran Yellowstone chief ranger Sam Woodring, the confer-ence was designed to expose rangers to the variety of issues faced by the Service, in order to broaden their understanding of park management. [23]

Perhaps most important for morale building was Mather's effort to improve the rangers' status as government employees. When the Park Service was established, employment was tied to individual parks, rather than to the park system. Thus rangers had no official "transfer rights" and had to resign from one park and pay their own moving expenses to the next location. [24] For low-salaried rangers, such fragmented employment opportunities severely restricted chances for career advancement. Furthermore, they fostered a provincial view, causing rangers to focus only on the parks they served, rather than the park system as a whole. Mather encouraged the rangers to consider their national park work as a career rather than a mere job; and his lobbying won salary increases and transfer rights (including moving costs) and ultimately brought rangers under the Civil Service's competitive examination system. [25]

The park rangers developed a natural alliance with the superintendents, based on mutual goals and perceptions as well as common career paths. Organizationally, the link between superintendents and rangers was through the chief ranger-usually the second most powerful position in the park, the incumbent of which acted for the superintendent during his absence. [26] The bonds that developed between rangers and superintendents during the Mather era became a fundamental aspect of park management and the internal politics of the Service.

In 1924 Horace Albright recalled believing that many of the superintendents on board when Mather took charge had been "incompetent men appointed as politicians." Seeking loyal, qualified employees, Mather hired new superintendents whom he trusted, and who could help build a close-knit, mutually supportive organization. He tended to choose men who had out-of-doors experience and who were engineers (particularly topographical engineers) or had served with the army or the U. S. Geological Survey. (Only in the 1970s would women begin to attain leadership roles in the Park Service.) [27] Mather's early superintendency appointments included Roger W. Toll, an engineer and former army officer, to Mount Rainier and later to Rocky Mountain and to Yellowstone; Washington B. ("Dusty") Lewis, a Geological Survey engineer, to Yosemite; "Colonel" Thomas Boles, an engineer, to Carlsbad Caverns; John R. White, a British-born, Oxford-educated soldier of fortune and former U.S. Army officer, to Sequoia and General Grant; and J. Ross Eakin, a Geological Survey engineer, to Glacier and later to Grand Canyon and to Great Smoky Mountains. [28]

The park rangers constituted another source from which to select superintendents, a factor that helped bond the two groups. For example, following the army's departure from Sequoia and General Grant, Walter Fry, a longtime ranger in those parks, was chosen to be superintendent. When Fry resigned in 1919, Mather replaced him with John White, who had worked briefly as a ranger at Grand Canyon before his elevation to the Sequoia position. [29] Most of Mather's early superintendency appointments did not come from the ranger ranks, however, perhaps because he did not have much confidence in the small rangers corps that was in place when the Park Service began operations. But as the Service recruited and trained rangers, they increasingly became obvious choices to fill superintendency positions.

Mather's most significant appointment came in 1919, when he named Horace Albright to the Yellowstone superintendency. Albright was to manage Yellowstone and was also to serve as Mather's field assistant (in effect, his deputy), in direct charge of all parks and all offices not located in Washington. [30] By placing his most trusted Park Service friend and confidant in the premier national park superintendency and in charge of field areas, Mather reinforced the bonds between the superintendents and the Park Service directorate.

To strengthen his organization and develop common solutions to management problems, Mather held superintendents conferences about every two years. He considered these meetings to be a continuation of the national park conferences begun in Yellowstone in 1911, which he had first attended at Berkeley in 1915. Albright recalled that they served as "forums for spreading the best ideas and tackling the biggest problems throughout the system." Mather also used the conferences to develop camaraderie among the superintendents, often staging large, festive dinners, with singing, horseplay, practical jokes, and other group activities. And at times he insisted that the superintendents travel to the conferences in automobile caravans (such as to Mesa Verde in 1925), in order to visit parks along the way and discuss various management issues. The conferences provided the superintendents with opportunities not only to form lifelong friendships, but also to become more aware that they were part of a national organization. [31] Through Mather's conferences, they began to comprehend the parks as a system and to influence policy on a systemwide basis.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap3a.htm — 1-Jan-2003